A long time ago, when I was writing my own thesis, one of my supervisors gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. It’s such good advice that I have passed it on to my own students. My supervisor still thinks it’s good advice – I heard him say it to a student just the other day. Put simply, it is this:
This might be the only book you ever write: BE PROUD OF IT.
There are a few themes that I’ll be coming back to throughout April including the notion that you are the world expert on your thesis, the need to understand the story that forms the continuous thread through your work and of course the need to engage with your readers – especially your examiners. But at the heart of it, after the dust settles and you’ve moved on to the next project, your book will remain, to some extent frozen in time. It will sit on your shelf as a constant reminder of your studies. It will sit on the shelf of your supervisor(s), amidst numerous others, and it might just be taken down and shown to others…It will sit in the Library, probably electronically these days, and it may languish, or it may be taken out and referred to. Either way, every typo, every presentational mistake, will be locked in place.
At the institution where I researched and defended my PhD, and at that time, it was still the rule that you had to submit two hard bound copies for the examiners. These days things are a little more lenient and you only need to submit a soft bound copy. I am torn about this. The expense of hard-binding a thesis is not inconsiderable, especially to a PhD student on a grant. One of the corrections that I was required to make changed the length of a sentence and would have caused all sorts of pagination problems. As I was loathe to waste these two copies, I ended up taking out an entire page, leaving as much of a flap as possible in order that I could stick a cut to size page in its place. On the other hand, it is becoming an ever increasing effort to get people to take the submission of thesis seriously – some students simply do not want to engage in the process of getting it right. The research is right, so why should they worry about catching every single typo and all the rest of it? At the worst, they’ll be able to sort these out at the final submission after the viva…
There are those, who for whatever reason (and some of these are excellent) do not write up their thesis. A subset of these will be very proud of not having written up and will declare to anyone who will listen that they “did a PhD, but didn’t bother to write up”. No. I’m sorry, but if you don’t sweat blood and tears, drink your weight in tea and/or coffee* during the course of writing up, and painstakingly ensure that the font size of every single figure and table is consistent, you have not ‘done a PhD’, you have merely faffed around for a few years, potentially wasting your time, that of your supervisors and sponsors, and clogging up resources that other people were desperate for.If you do not have that book in your hand, if you have not defended it first to your supervisors and then to the examiners, you have not ‘done a PhD’.
Whether it’s a PhD, your first novel, or the latest in a series of blockbusters, be proud of your book and do as good a job copy-editing as you did researching it and writing it all up in the first place: this might be your first/last/only book and it deserves your best.