It’s been a funny year, I think, grasping at the greatest understatement I can find as I start my first blog post in nine months.
A few days ago a box arrived in the post. This is the box in which I will put my thesis and a copy of Lines And Ladders, so that they can be deposited in the university library. I opened the parcel today as post has a 72 hour quarantine period these days.
I spent most of 2020 writing my thesis. I started with a plan; I would cocoon myself in work for the first three months of the year, submit the thesis some time in April, whatever state it was in (remembering the adage about there only being two types of thesis: the finished ones and the perfect ones), and then viva in the summer. But, you know this story, as I emerged back into the world from the hermit stage of writing, we were all ordered to stay inside.
For me, this was time to redraft, to improve, to slowly wend my way through the comments from my supervisors. Delaying in the hope that my viva might take place in person. Playing a board game in a public space, critical to my practice-research, seemed suddenly desperately improbable and all the more necessary because it was beyond reach.
It turned out delaying until we could have three people from different households in the same room was not feasible. The mismanagement of the situation in the UK meaning it simply wasn’t safe throughout the Autumn and Winter of 2020.
I had my viva online in December. I passed without corrections and I still don’t quite believe it.
It wasn’t as bad as I had feared. My shambling attempt in the mock two weeks earlier prompted me to practise. Fundamental for a practice-research PhD, you might think, but I realised that for the last year I had avoided talking about my thesis, because so much of my brain power was being expended writing it. When people asked about it, I deflected.
For the two weeks between the mock and the real thing everyone I spoke to heard all about my research. Anyone local helped me by questioning and listening as we walked or ran together. Friends and family further afield quizzed me over video link – and I realised just what phenomenal interviewers they all were. Another year, I might have talked more about my research at conferences and suchlike, but speaking research out loud is a different skill to the writing that I had spent the last year developing. The drilling that started in the mock and continued for the next two weeks made me articulate more succinctly.
The thoughtful consideration and kindness of the examiners, Frances Babbage and Jerome de Groot, made the viva a challenge to be relished. Their engaged, informed and enthusiastic questioning encouraged me to speak with confidence about my research. From the opening awkward conversation between Frances and I about the apples in the fruit bowl behind me, while we waited for Jerome who got locked out of the meeting, to the closing opportunity to add something that was missed, the examination was respectful and friendly.
Part of me is sad to have finished the PhD, I’d expected to drag it out for a few months with corrections. I like being a student. But on the other hand – woo hoo! It’s done!!!