How’s the PhD Going? Pandemic Edition

I started writing a blog post on 1 March. It was my annual PhD update. I wrote a few paragraphs about the bizarre emotional rollercoaster of thesis completion: what it felt like to be two months away from submitting, what sort of work I had left to do, and how general life chores (shopping, cooking, etc.) were becoming increasingly exhausting. I couldn’t figure out how to finish the post, so I saved it in my drafts for another weekend.

We are now, of course, living in a different world. Everything has changed, nothing is certain; the anxieties attached to finishing a PhD have been eclipsed by everything else.

Nevertheless, I am plodding on towards the finish line. My submission deadline is in just under four weeks. All being well, I’ll submit my thesis as a PDF at the end of April and have my viva over Skype. My partner and I will acquire champagne, cook something extravagant for dinner, and celebrate in style. I’ll plan Zoom parties with friends and family. The end of my PhD experience won’t be anything like I imagined, but I’ll certainly never forget it.

Before all that, though, I do need to actually finish my thesis. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I managed to make an epic library trip just before my university campus closed. I went through all my chapters and replaced the [citation needed] notes with actual references, so hopefully my bibliography will be gap-free.

I’ve spent the last few weeks reworking two chapters that needed quite a bit of work. Now that that’s done (ugh so relieved), I’ll be moving on to making final revisions on my other three. Then I need to fix the formatting (please no) and put together the front and back matter (contents page, list of illustrations, acknowledgements, bibliography).

Some days, my brain simply will not produce coherent thoughts. This is not surprising – it turns out pandemics are emotionally exhausting, and I used to rely on regular changes of scenery (walks, coffee shops, library trips, National Trust visits) for writerly inspiration. On those days, I either (a) give myself a mindless thesis task, such as formatting footnotes or placing images, or (b) give up and bake a cake/sit outside and listen to music/binge-watch something on Netflix.

I am still trying to manufacture changes of scenery, though. An afternoon visit to Café Ella involves relocating to my dining table with a frothy coffee, iced water, and with gentle jazz music on in the background. Yesterday I dug out my old bed desk and set it up on my sofa. It brought me an unreasonable amount of joy for reasons I don’t fully understand.

Bed Desk

There are a few other things that have made this rocky ride better. Skype dates with friends and family are wonderful. Some are all about drinking tea and catching up, others form the backbone of digital Shut Up & Write days. I’m excited to get stuck into some online theatre broadcasts this weekend (assuming I can tear myself away from Tiger King). I love listening to podcasts—especially episodes that have been recorded since the pandemic started. My favourites at the moment are No Such Thing As A Fish and My Favourite Murder. Both acknowledge recent developments but otherwise carry on as normal. I find that continuity really reassuring.

Stay safe and well. Our local cat friend says be kind to yourself. ❤