A Letter to My Younger Self: From the Thesis Finish Line

Dear 2012 Anaise,

I seem to recall that you’re pretty excited about your PhD. That’s great. I know you’re enjoying the freedom of all your academic possibilities right now. But from where I sit, on the brink of submission, I have a few practical words of wisdom for you.

I know you feel quite liberal with your time. There are no immediate deadlines looming for you, and it seems very glamorous to alternate between periods of intense inspiration and periods of intellectual malaise. It’s like being some temperamental 18th century Parisian artiste! Working with the ebbs and flows of your own mind, free to write when you feel like it, and wander the library aimlessly when you don’t. What academic liberty, what luxurious mental wandering!


Please be a little more consistent. Producing a thesis is a job. Do a little bit every day, whether you feel inspired or not. Make plans for steady progress, and stick to them. Because it will not seem glamorous to you at the end if your hair is turning grey and your social life dissipating into the ether as you spend every available hour chained to your computer.

Now speaking of that computer: use it wisely. For the love of all things holy, stop formatting every single in-text citation through EndNote. Do you know how many of those things you’ve left me with? Nine hundred and thirty-seven. Do you know how many of those things MS Word / EndNote can handle efficiently? Not nine hundred and thirty-seven. Sure, enter one in-text citation using Cite While You Write for each source you use; that way the source will automatically go into your bibliography. But for second, third, and forty-ninth quotes from the same source, just jolly well type in the citation. I’m sick of my computer freezing up, and I never, never want to get stuck on this stupid, slow dialogue box again.


OK? Thanks.

While we’re on the subject of EndNote, please learn its features now, not later. You could have turned off instant formatting when the slowness first started to drive you nuts, and saved hours – nay, weeks! – in thumb-twiddling time.

Now I know you’ve got a chapter outline all written up, and I know you’ve pinned it proudly to your bulletin board. It won’t last, but don’t worry about that just yet. However, please do think about how each chapter relates to every other. Don’t just write them in isolation; link them well. Examiners love to see a “through-thread” running throughout the entire thesis, and it’s really hard to retrofit that when you’re in your last few weeks of writing.

Oh and speaking of writing, could you perhaps be a bit more consistent about your formatting? You have developed some dubious habits relating to line spacing, long quote indenting, and figure captioning over the years. Read the university’s thesis formatting rules. Yes, now. (I know it seems early.) Follow them, and stick to them. That would be great.

Most of all, enjoy this time. Remember it. You’ll never be in the early stages of a research degree ever again, and you’ll miss it one day. The late stages have their own joys – the sense of accomplishment, the realisation that you’re actually going to finish, the warm glow of your supervisor’s final approval – but they are also stressful. Enjoy the sensation of open-endedness; but think of the end a little too.

Thanks & regards,

2016 Anaise.

PS. Don’t get your hopes up for the How I Met Your Mother finale.


About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink. She has a research background in science and narrative. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. She has previously researched fictional representations of evolution and quantum mechanics. She has taught such diverse texts as Blade Runner and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and her most obscure skill is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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