I usually start every week with a blog post plan: when and where I will write it and what I will focus on. Not only do I want to make sure this blog is enjoyable and useful for others to read, I just really hate working right up to a deadline – I like to get everything ready in advance. The last couple of weeks have been a bit full-on with family visits, mock interviews, museum work, and trying desperately to get a chapter finished for my fast approaching third year review. This week, I did not have a blog post plan. So this seems like the perfect time to share some insights about what life is really like in the third year of a PhD.
It’s not as bad as it sounds
When I meet people and tell them I am in the third year of my PhD they often grimace, or give me a very sympathetic look as though I have just revealed I’ve recently been dumped, or broken my leg. Third year is certainly tough and I know things are only going to get harder as the months roll by but right now, it really isn’t that bad. In fact, if I am honest, I have enjoyed third year more than any other part of my PhD. I know what I am doing (most of the time), and I have gained the skills to get on with it. I know my subject well enough to introduce the project with confidence, and discuss it either with professors, other PhD students or members of the public. As a third year, I feel that I am qualified to say things like “Yes, I do plan to publish my thesis as a book”. Things that seemed really scary in first year, like asking to be paid for my work, looking at potential jobs, and even networking, no longer seem like impossibly intimidating tasks.
The time passes scarily fast
I do not say this to scare you, but actually, to remind myself to enjoy this period. I have done some amazing things in the last six months, and I do not want to forget them in the mad flurry of trying to finish my thesis. This is where I think really good planning (I use a week planner and year planner and daily to do lists to try and stay on top of my deadlines) comes into play. I always try and accommodate recovery time into my schedule so that I am not flying straight from one project into another without room to breathe.
You have to make some difficult decisions
Every third year PhD student I know is really really busy. They have a LOT of thesis to right, but they most likely will also have either teaching, volunteer or internship work, a part time job or equivalent. Some are working on an articles or book chapters, editing their own publication, organising a conference or training event, or prepping conference papers. They also have social lives, pets, weddings to plans and babies to prepare for. At this point, some people start trying to ‘shed’ some of the extra roles that have accumulated over the years of the PhD, but this is easier said than done. I am learning that I just have to start saying no to things, and choosing the events I want to take part in or the projects I want to finish very carefully. So far, being a third year PhD student has made me appear boring-to-the-point-of-hermit to my friends and family who do not work in academia, so also just remember that not everyone fully understands the challenges you are facing.
Your routine may go out the window
For me there is no such thing as an average third year day. I grab the chance to sit down and write whenever I can, but realistically I cannot set much of a routine in advance. I am currently in the last few months of my internship and to work around other projects at the museum it does not always make sense for me to go in on a set day. Writing group is a moveable feast depending on the days that suit most people. I go to Glasgow (my university) a couple of times a month, have regular conference/society planning meetings in different locations around Edinburgh and, of course, have to walk the dog too.
You’re not a girl not yet a woman
This may not be quite the time and place for Britney but I am tired and it feels appropriate right now. What I am trying to say is that I may have increased confidence, skills, and self-awareness, but I have not actually finished my PhD. Though the months are flying by, there is a lot of writing, feedback, editing and viva-ing between me and that doctorate. On this subject, I think it is so valuable to talk to ECRS and other newly minted PhDs. They know exactly what we are facing and are usually more than happy to share any pearls of wisdom. Also, they are living proof that it is possible to survive the final PhD stretch with grace and style. To miss-quote Britney, “[They’ve] seen so much more than [we] know now.”
You can do this
If you’ve made it this far, you can totally do this. Repeat until viva.