Confessions of a PhD student – What it feels like to hand in your thesis

After the positive response that I had to my initial Confessions of a PhD student post, I thought I would share my experiences of having handed in my thesis as I have been quite surprised at how this has made me feel.

Overall, I’ve found handing in to be, in a word…odd. On the one hand I have submitted a piece of work that has been my life for over three years and it felt pretty amazing to hold a bound thesis with my name on it. After the final few weeks of intense writing and not really moving from my computer the possibility of what I could do with my time now was very exciting!

So the first thing I decided to do was to book a weekend away at a spa to properly relax. What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it would be to actually relax. I was still running on adrenaline and for the first day I kept forgetting that I’d handed in and would think “oh my god I should be writing!” and then I’d remember that I didn’t have to do that anymore. With that came relief, but genuinely it also brought about a feeling of well, if I’m not writing my thesis any more, then what am I doing?

I’m aware that it might sound strange, and its kind of obvious all of the things I could be doing that are much more fun than thesis writing. But for months on end the thesis feels like your whole purpose; it’s why I got up in the morning and why I didn’t sleep at night. To have that taken away on the one hand is of course a relief, but it has left me feeling a bit lost and a bit empty.

Also, when speaking about hand in people will often focus on the positive, and I am all for focusing on the positive, but when multiple people say things like “wow you must feel amazing”,  “I bet you feel on top of the world” or “you must be so happy” and you don’t actually feel like that it can all feel a bit odd. Plus, I don’t think people expect you to say well, actually I feel a bit down about the whole thing and I worry that I will appear ungrateful. It has made me wonder if I am right to be feeling lost and if it is just me that feels like this. I question why aren’t you happier? Why do you feel down when have just done what you set out to do?

I think part of it is because I feel like I can’t quite relax just yet. I’m now in that awkward space between hand in and viva where I’m not doing my PhD anymore but I’m not allowed to call the bank to change my title to Dr. I panic when people call me Dr Chrissy and I feel the need to say “no, not yet!” just incase the viva does not go to plan. I hope very much that it will go to plan, and I 100% trust that my supervisors would never have put me forward if they did not think I was going to pass…but the self-doubt still manages to creep in at times.

Now that my thesis is in, I feel like the world is my oyster and honestly, this scares me a little. Having too much choice, can lead to choice fatigue which is where the quality of your decision making deteriorates when you have to make multiple decisions over a long period of time. With the PhD my path was mapped out, I had the incredible support of my supervisors and now that the thesis is in I feel like I’m lost in the middle of the ocean. I’m terrified of making the wrong life decision and it feels like there are so many to make and so many different options available. Do I stay in academia? Where do I want to live? and perhaps the most scary of all when am I going to be able to start a family?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I do know that I need to be kind and patient with myself. These decisions don’t have to be made alone and I need to remind myself that I am not alone in this. I’m so grateful for my support network and I hope that by sharing my experiences that anyone else who feels this way will feel a little less alone too.


Chrissy x



2 responses to “Confessions of a PhD student – What it feels like to hand in your thesis

  1. Pingback: Why we shouldn’t aim to be happy all the time  | Making it Mindful·

  2. Pingback: What to do when the self-help books don’t help | Making it Mindful·

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