Happy New Year!
So it’s the beginning of a new year and once more the department is filled with slightly dazed postgrads, harried looking lecturers and technical staff who look as if they haven’t missed a beat. The kitchen sink is once more filled with coffee grounds, and the lab fridge, cleaned before the Christmas break, is beginning to fill up with unlabelled tubes and iffy-smelling cultures. My supervisor arrives looking uncharacteristically relaxed and tells us to have a laid-back week. Facebook tells me I have graduated from the university, and I have a little cry.
I take some data over to my main supervisor who surprises me by saying that she thinks there’s a paper in it, and that she thinks I can submit my thesis in September. My response to each was a somewhat incredulous “really?” with the latter drawing the additional comment “what, this September?!” My writing up plan has suddenly undergone something of a seismic shift. Being finished in less than nine months is both thrilling and utterly terrifying. Eeek!
Sadly this means I have rapidly developed final-year syndrome, which is characterised by long days in the lab, implausible multitasking and a slightly crazed expression. The sudden realisation that after 27 months wondering wandering in the wilderness, the end is now actually in sight. By my supervisor’s calculations I can have my practical work finished by the end of April and then start writing. Needless to say I did not have a laid-back week!
I can see why my department is so keen to have PhD’s concluded within 3 years. In my previous jobs projects lasted for a set time, and then reached a natural conclusion: I submitted the report, I sent the materials to the printers, I hosted the meeting. In contrast, any scientific research has the tendency to resemble an unmeasured length of twine, and it takes experience to judge where to draw a line and publish before moving on.
As an inexperienced scientist I do not yet possess this skill and so am reliant on my supervisor’s experience to judge it for me. Having a deadline helps. It dawns on me just how important having guidance is in completing. In its absence I can see why some friends have taken 5-6 years to submit: there is always one more experiment that can be done. But does it really contribute to your research, or is it just preventing you from finishing anything?