The end of January saw a supervision session for the second of three (planned) data chapters, which went pretty well. Even though I wrote 3-4,000w less than intended for both chapters, I’ve submitted both on time. It was very tempting to try and postpone the deadline and subsequent supervision by a week, but I am coming to believe that time is a more important variable in the writing-up process than word count. Three reasons for this:
- It’s important to get timely advice on draft chapters – no point postponing to write more words only to find that your supervisors think you’ve gone off track. It’s much easier (both practically and psychologically) to add a few thousand words to an academically sound draft than rewriting the bulk of a longer draft that has run into the sand.
- Sticking to deadlines lends you the air of competence – professionalism, even! Slipping deadlines are all too common in doctoral studies – why not surprise your supervisors by sticking to yours? Apart from avoiding the time-suck of rearranging supervision meetings, your supervisors will be providing you with a reference (or maybe even interviewing you) for a job somewhere down the line. Proving to them you can carry off a big project on time can only be good news.
- You are not only proving yourself to others, you are proving to you that you can stick to your timetable. The days leading up to the deadline are hard hard hard. For me, it doesn’t seem to matter when I start writing, I always have ’000s of words to get done in the last week. The temptation to postpone is immense. But my strong advice is to hand in on time, even if your submission is not quite what you were planning, for imposing some mastery over time during the writing up will give you some much needed self-confidence on the rock road to your doctorate.
Time is a pretty malleable concept within the PhD. Traditionally, students seem to take well over the idealised three year duration. The PhD is certainly a project that requires more work than any other in a student’s academic career. Naturally, you want to get it right, but I strongly believe it needs to get done on time. Practically speaking, I know too many people who have gone into their fourth year and suddenly hit ‘the wall’ just when they thought they were on the home straight. Often, they’ve needed to take new jobs after the PhD funding has run out. Sometimes, the sheer length of time working on one topic has taken its toll, intellectual fatigue setting in.But the big one for me is: how long do I really want to spend doing one thing? There’s a lot of stuff in this world that needs fixing. Maybe my PhD will help with a very small part of that, maybe it won’t. Whichever it is, I’m unconvinced that spending an extra 6 months, 12 months, 18 months writing and re-writing will improve it enough to make the extra time worthwhile. Even if you could *guarantee* that such an extension would improve your thesis, you may well gain in the long run by instilling some temporal self-discipline.