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Passing milestones and jumping through hoops: Getting a PhD

I am now — finally and officially — a doctor. It took four years and almost a month to get here, with most of the milestones and hoops transpiring over the past few months.

On 2 July, after 3 years and 10 months of intense research and furious writing that ended in a long day of formatting and creating a Table of Contents and such exciting things, I submitted two soft-bound copies of my PhD thesis to be examined, one would be sent to my external examiner, the other to my internal examiner. The submission of a thesis is, as an event, something of an anticlimax. You go to a little window at the Postgraduate Office and drop off the copies. No song and dance. To offset this fact, they have a plastic jar of candies from which you may choose one. I had something called a Drumstick that proved very chewy.

Before that milestone, I had to jump through the hoop of submitting paperwork that made me eligible to submit and alerted my examiners to my impending thesis.

The next milestone came very quickly on 6 August when I had my viva, my viva voce examination (defence). It was less a cross-examination/interrogation and more a thorough conversation about my research, pushing me to go farther on some issues than I was willing/had space to in the thesis itself. It was really good; they both liked it and had some very helpful feedback.

This was the big milestone for me. For some people, it’s submission. But submission was a grand anticlimax, not only because of the circumstances but also because the work itself was still untried, unproved. What would the outcome be? There was still too much uncertainty at submission. But after my viva, I knew what they thought of my work. And I knew that there were only minor corrections to do before I could submit the final copy and be officially awarded my PhD.

The next hoop that had to be jumped (and this one not by me!) was the submission of the examiners’ report to the committee that reviews vivas before officially letting me know what the corrections were to be. Unfortunately, due to a technical error, the examiners’ report did not reach the committee in time for their 17 August meeting (no one’s fault). I, nonetheless, had a copy of this report, so I was able to do my corrections before the committee’s meeting on 18 September.

Corrections are neither a milestone nor a hoop. They are a requirement (for all but a very select few), ranging from typos to factual errors to amplified bibliographies to added/rewritten chapters. Thankfully I only had typos and bibliographies to be amplified, as well as changing my citation of Gregory of Tours from Historia Francorum to Historiae (full stop).

Only 18 September, I received the e-mail from the committee approving my examiners’ corrections. I sent my corrected copy off to my internal examiner. He then had to approve my corrections, that I had done them correctly. This he did on Monday.

The next milestone involved several hoops. Not only must the final copy of the thesis be hardbound like a book with golden lettering on the spine, not only must it include things like the abstract and lay summary as well as a signed declaration that it’s my own work, not only must it be laid out and paginated in a very particular, detailed manner — it must also come with a piece of paperwork and a CD with a pdf of the thesis.

This is the hoop that makes the least sense whatsoever.


What is this, 2001?

I remembering burning CDs in 2001.

But most people don’t run around burning CDs anymore. I, at least, have an optical drive in my big laptop, so burning a CD was not difficult. But, really, in an age when Master’s students don’t even submit hard copies of their theses but only a digital, online copy, why can PhDs not be submitted digitally in such a way? Anyway, I bought ten CDs (one is not an option) and burned one.

Then it turns out that the quickest anyone in Edinburgh can hardbind a thesis is 24 hours, and that the university printer is not the one who can do it that quickly. So, on Tuesday, when I thought I was going to be passing another milestone, the final hoop had me waiting until Wednesday while Mail Boxes, Etc. did their job.

They did a fine job, and on Wednesday I successfully passed the final milestone by jumping through these hoops. Here I am:

IMG_20150923_113941And now I have a copy of this letter, making it all real:

PhD Letter