First submission – when are you really ready?

You’re not. Seriously, I’m not trying to trip you up or scare you, but you will never, ever be ready. Not in your head. You will never feel you are ‘done’. You will never feel you are ‘ready’. You will forever think there is more you could do. More you could write. More you could research.

Your heart will tell you when it’s time. Because you will reach a day when you can’t do it anymore. When it is just too hard and you are too tired and you don’t want to get up tomorrow and still be doing your PhD. That’s when you know you’re ready. Because you are. Because your heart has told you. Listen to your head for every moment of every day from the day you start your PhD to the day you wake up and know you are ready to be done. Then start listening to your heart.

Everyone falls out of love with their PhD. Every Single Person. Some people fall out of love sooner rather than later, but everyone does it. If you’re lucky, it’ll happen later, because take it from me, not loving your PhD makes it ten times harder to do. But you will fall out of love and you will still be doing your PhD. And the longer you hate your thesis, the quicker your heart will tell you it’s time to let it go. Every single PhD ends in a divorce the day you submit. It’s mostly amicable. It’s mostly okay. But it really is ‘irreconcilable differences’. You cannot tolerate another day with your thesis. Your thesis is no longer doing you any favours. It’s time to part ways.

But really, how do you know you’re ready? What if your heart tells you before your supervisor agrees? Well, probably. I mean, maybe not. Maybe you’ll be one of those lucky ones that loves it to the time you hit your editing phase. I really wasn’t that lucky. I fell out of love in my second year, and although my thesis and I reconciled later, it was short lived. We ultimately still ended in a divorce, and I was happy to see ‘him’ go on the day I submitted. I was done. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I didn’t want to try to make it work. I just wanted ‘him’ gone. And go ‘he’ did.

But it was because my supervisor agreed. He agreed because he knew I was over it. And he knew I was ready. He knew I had a thesis. He knew it was good enough to submit. Otherwise, he would have told me to stick it out. He would have told me to keep trying to make it work. But he didn’t have to tell me this and I’m very, very glad he didn’t. I was so ready to be done.

Talk to your supervisor. Discuss – in complete honesty – the question ‘is it ready to submit?’ and whatever the answer is, be ready to work with it. If it’s not ready, it may only need a few more weeks of work. Don’t despair! It does not have to be perfect, but it does have to be a complete thesis. It has to have the things a thesis needs: originality, research, factual knowledge, grammatically sound, formally written, complete (all the chapters and parts are there), and it has to be your own. If it has all those parts, you’re probably good to go. But talk to your supervisor. Even if you have never talked to them through your PhD, this is the time to talk to them. This is the time to make them work for you. It’s what they’re there for.

But it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough. You hear that a lot and it is absolutely true. It just has to be good enough for you to viva. It just has to be good enough for you to stand in your viva and defend it. It can be a long way from perfect. That is not the point of a PhD thesis.

And when it is good enough, let it go.