The PhD journey so far

Sarah Garlick, Social Statistics, University of Liverpool (2016 Cohort)

24 August 2020: I’m sat with a small group of friends outside a café in Liverpool, drinking tea and eating cookies (made by one of the group, who is an excellent baker). It’s my last full day living in Liverpool. Waiting for me where I live are a large number of cardboard boxes, some packed (but many not – it’s going to be a long day). Having lived in the city since 2017, including during the first silent, confusing and lonely months of the pandemic when I felt as though I saw more seagulls than people, I am moving away from the University, away from Merseyside, with my thesis in the writing-up stage. I didn’t expect to leave Liverpool before submitting my thesis. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last time I’ll meet up with my University friends face-to-face. (Hopefully one day this will change)

28 May 2021: It’s late at night and I’m sat in the corner of a dining room, looking at a computer monitor sat on a desk that my older brother used during his Undergraduate degree. (Characteristically, my family kept hold of the desk for years after his graduation, on the off chance it was ever needed again) Behind me are crates of Library books that until March 2020 sat on a shelf next to my desk in the PhD students’ office. I am reading an email I have drafted with a PDF document attached. The document is the first submission of my thesis. I have worried over it for months, through countless online writing retreats, online Supervisory meetings and hours spent sat on my own, at this desk. I hold my breath and press send.

(The entry in my pocket diary for 28 May says “Submitted my thesis. Felt quite stressed!”)

29 June 2021: The University Library is a lot quieter than the last time I visited (which must have been…early 2020?). The printer is not quiet. It crosses my mind that, if the University hadn’t changed their thesis submission requirements during the pandemic, printing three copies of my thesis would be potentially very time consuming (and annoying for anyone else who needed a printer). Once all of the pages are printed, I will take my thesis to the front desk and ask for it to be bound. This will be the copy that I will use for my Viva preparations.

24 August 2021: It’s early afternoon and I’m sat in the corner of a dining room, looking at a laptop screen. I’m wearing a tea dress that I’ve worn for a couple of conference presentations, therefore in my head I perceive it as being ‘lucky’. My Viva is taking place via video call, with my internal examiner, external examiner and I speaking from separate locations. We have been talking for about two hours. As anticipated, my examiners’ questions have been detailed and challenging but from the start, the tone of the Viva has been encouraging. Having finished their questions, my examiners have put me in a breakout room by myself so that they can speak in private. My hands keep tapping against the cover of my thesis. It is possibly the longest 10 minutes of my life.

(The entry in my pocket diary for 24 August says “Pass with minor corrections!”, followed by a smiley face)

Being told you’ve passed your Viva is the best feeling. But there’s also a feeling of tiredness from all the stress. It’s odd having a Viva online and messaging your Supervisors to let them know the outcome. And messaging family and friends you’ve not seen for over a year to let them know you’ve passed. And replying with a thumbs up or heart to messages from people in your department who you used to see every day in the office.

At the time of writing, there are still corrections to make to my thesis before the final submission. But it’s good to know that, after months and years of work, another stage of my PhD journey is complete. If you’re reading this now and you’re on a similar journey: good luck and best wishes!

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