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Hacking, hen-dos and Hunting for Jobs: the road to thesis submission


4 years of thesis work eventually ends. There are several end points, though, some of which were evoked in a previous piece about life between submission and viva. The run-up to submission similarly includes several end points, like the final individual chapter draft sent to supervisors or sending the full draft for their delectation. And, in all likelihood, there’s more than just the thesis to attend to anyway… be prepared for a busy few months.

By Pierre Botcherby.

Cutting and proof-reading (Spring 2021 – word count 110,000)

On 5 March 2021, I sent the draft of my final thesis chapter to my supervisors. They’d now seen all of it, save the Conclusion. Comments were soon received, and so began the process of revising, cutting, and proofing (“hacking”) for submission. Garrulous by nature, I’d gone 30,000 words over the 80,000 limit so serious chopping was required. I proceeded chapter-by-chapter, making initially brutal cuts to sharpen the argument and analysis; trying, essentially, to see the wood for the trees. With, at times, nearly two years’ hindsight since writing the first draft, ideas were reformulated or reordered, and new readings and primary sources included. I luckily had willing proof-readers amongst friends and family, some even reading the whole thing (a favour I’ll go on record to say I’ll return).

Procrastinating (general and targeted)

After nearly 4 years, fatigue creeps in. I never started actively disliking my topic but sometimes the idea of revisiting readings from a chapter written two years ago or chipping away at sentences to satisfy an arbitrary word limit was frankly unpalatable. Fortunately, as described elsewhere, I had other tasks keeping me busy and sane on days I couldn’t face the thesis: targeted procrastination like seminar teaching, undergraduate research projects, and the Warwick Postgraduate Teaching Community; and general procrastination like reading, cycling, TV, squash, cooking, staring into space… all vital in their own way.

Job hunting (Spring-summer 2021)

One less fun source of procrastination was the increasingly necessary job hunt. I don’t enjoy job hunting: the CV-tweaking, the arse-kissing and buzzword-filled cover letters, the thousand-and-one different online application platforms. Coupled with an unfavourable academic jobs market and the fact that for every post even the worst candidate has a PhD, there’s not much to smile about. If you do tire of trawling, I found my current roles via Unitemps.

Hen Do organising (Spring-Summer 2021)

More enjoyable was organising a friend’s Hen Do, even despite ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19. Between the pandemic and editing the thesis, it was lovely to have something to look forward to. It was tempting in these final months to just work but having a few small “holidays” (attending the Hen Do in July and a week back at my parents in August) to break it up was essential.

Image credit: Pierre Botcherby.

Submitting, the rehearsal (30 June)

In amongst this, at the end of June, birthday in sight, I submitted… to the supervisors, anyway. Almost down to 80,000 words, and if nothing else at least at a point where it could be handed in if needed. Now I awaited the supervisors’ feedback…

More cutting and isolating (Summer 2021 – word count 85,000)

…which came quickly, with the headline ‘all plain sailing until the conclusion’. I was happy with that, in fairness, as my initial Conclusion draft was a bit out there. I rewrote it in a fit of pique, scaling it back to something the thesis examiners later summed up as ‘it’ll do’, and then set about getting the thesis below the official word count. By sheer dint of time spent on this, you pick up a few hacks, including:

  • Delete all uses of ‘also’, ‘indeed’, ‘thus’, ‘therefore’…
  • ‘Such as’ becomes ‘like’; ‘as well as’ becomes ‘alongside’…
  • Present tense (‘this thesis argues’), not future tense (‘this thesis will argue’)
  • Cut any uses of the conditional from where you were still thinking your analysis through as you wrote it

This final revising and cutting was a slog. If this doesn’t seem tasteless, a bout of Covid-19 in mid-August was quite helpful: aside from two days of feeling rough, I had no excuse but to work – and I got through a lot in that time.

Submitting, for real (1 September)

And then, suddenly, it was submission time. I found myself in the university library, taking advantage of their nice big monitors and latest version of Word, formatting and finalising the draft, all 360-odd pages of it. I could’ve submitted in the morning but got sucked into a cycle of checking and rechecking and checking again, in case anything had suddenly disappeared or moved (not unlikely given the number of graphs, tables, maps, and photos). Eventually, though, I took a deep breath and hit the ‘submit’ button, a slightly underwhelming feeling given it is done electronically and 4 years of work becomes essentially an email attachment. But it was done, and I was as exhausted as I was elated. Now there was just the small matter of a wedding and a new job to attend to…


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