It’s impossible to express with mere words how keenly many research students anticipate the moment of thesis submission. After months or years of work – the planning, the reading, the research, the writing, the seemingly endless revisions – submission represents a moment of triumph. When we submit our thesis, we’ve conquered the beast!
Except… not quite.
While submission is a major milestone and a huge accomplishment, it’s not the end of the road. There is still an examination process to go through, and that can mean a gap of some months between submitting the thesis and actually graduating. So: what happens in that time? And how can you make the most of your post-submission period?
What happens after you submit?
The full processes for submission and examination are detailed in the AUT Postgraduate Handbook: pp.120-137 for doctoral students and pp.138-159 for Masters students. There are slight differences in the process depending on which thesis format you chose, and whether the thesis is embargoed. But in general, the process works like this.
After you submit your thesis to your faculty/school postgraduate office, it is sent on to the Graduate Research School. The GRS registers the submission and contacts examiners. Your examiners are sent a briefing pack containing information about the examination process and procedures, and they are given a link to download your thesis. Once your thesis is with examiners, the GRS will notify you as well.
Examiners are asked to consider your thesis and comment on certain points (these are given in the handbook on p.126 for doctoral examinations and p.145-8 for Masters examinations). Each examiner prepares a report, including a recommended outcome. These reports are sent to the GRS, where they are anonymised. For doctoral examinations, the reports are first circulated within the Examination Panel (your examiners plus your convenor) and are then released to you at a pre-meeting before your oral examination. For Masters examinations, the reports are given to the relevant faculty examination board, which considers examiners’ recommendations and determines the final grade.
The examination process can take two months if all goes smoothly; or sometimes much longer. (Sidenote: a long examination period doesn’t necessarily indicate that anything is wrong with your thesis. Sometimes it just means that examiners missed their deadlines for writing the report.)
So you will have some time to kill in between submitting your thesis and finding out the outcome. If you’ve already got plans for that time, great! If not, read on.
How can you use your time in the post-submission period?
While all that examination work goes on behind the scenes, there isn’t a lot that rests on you. After a flurry of activity to get the thesis ready for submission, you might feel at a bit of a loose end once it’s gone in for examination. But there are still plenty of things you can be doing to further your goals; and, in fact, having several under-committed months is a fantastic opportunity to think about what comes next.
Firstly, if you are a doctoral student, you can prepare for your oral exam. At AUT, we offer two workshops about the doctoral oral exam: one on the overall process, and one on the presentation skills you can use to impress your examiners. You can also do your own preparation by re-reading your thesis, staying abreast of any developments in the field, talking with your supervisors about potential exam strategies, and rehearsing your answers to some common oral exam questions. Practice discussing and defending your choices: how did you choose your research questions? Why did you select your methodology; and/or reject other alternatives? What would you do differently, if you were to repeat your project? What kind of future research could build on your findings?
Secondly, you can prepare for your next career move. If you are not sure of what you’ll do next, now is a great time to do some serious thinking and put some irons in the fire. Evaluate the relative merits of academic versus non-academic careers, read up on the career paths of recent graduates in your field, and take a look at job listings. Think about how mobile you can be as you seek your next opportunity, and what might suit your goals and (if relevant) your family.
Catch up with colleagues / collaborators. Remember that person you connected with at a conference last year? Let them know that you are looking for work in their field. Remember the professor whose course you tutored on? See if they’re willing to act as a referee. You might not always get a response, but it doesn’t hurt to inform the people who can advance your career that you’re ready to make moves. It can also help to forge some new connections during your post-submission phase – perhaps via professional organisations or social media.
This is also a good time to get some publications from your thesis. If there’s a chapter in your thesis that could form the basis of a journal article, then write it! Even if you’re sick of the sight of your thesis, you may be able to work on ‘sideways’ publications. You could write about your method, if you did something unique; or offer to co-author with a colleague if you contributed to their research in some way. Think also about any ‘failures’ in your research. Could you write about what didn’t work?
Last but not least, polish your CV and check your online professional presence. Make sure that your academic CV and/or non-academic CV, LinkedIn profile, Academia.edu profile, and ResearchGate page are all current and comprehensive. AUT’s Employability & Careers team provides a lot of support (including workshops) in this area. Check your non-professional social media presence too. Potential employers will very likely look you up online, and your personal pages could come up in their searches. Is there anything on your personal profiles that could hamper your employment prospects? If so, consider removing questionable material, or tweak your privacy settings.
Oh, and one more thing you can (and absolutely should) do after you’ve submitted your thesis: CELEBRATE! Pop some champagne, take a little holiday, and recognise your success. After a long, intense period of research, you may want a little time out to refocus on yourself, your friends and family, and your wellbeing. While it’s true that there are plenty of work-related things you can get on with, it’s also totally justifiable to stop, smell the roses, and pat yourself on the back for producing a full research thesis. Well done!
Hat tip to AUT doctoral candidate Reem Abbas for the idea for this post!