How NOT to hand in your PhD

Carina Wyborn recently completed her PhD at the ANU and is now based at College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana. Carina wrote the story of handing in her PhD for her blog “The pacific exchange” and sent it to me. I loved it and asked if I could cross post here. A cautionary tale indeed! Congratulations on finishing Carina :-)

So… It finally happened, I submitted my PhD last week. Feels surreal, amazing, and totally normal all at the same time. But I thought I’d just share the hilarity of the day for posterities sake. I really wish somebody had been following me around that day with a camera, because it would have made for some awesome time-laps photography.

file781242322307I was back in Canberra for one week to attend the Society for Human Ecology’s 14th International Conference and to submit my thesis. Unsurprisingly, the thesis was not as ready as I had planned (due to circumstances largely outside of my control…), so I spent the week frantically dealing with the final proofreading, reference list and formatting debacles. With this and the conference it was a week of very little sleep…

I wake on Friday morning at about 5.30am after dreaming about blocked printers and binding failures, stressed about the final formatting. I get to campus and can’t seem to print from my friend’s computer (having left in December I no longer have my own desk at the ANU). After being not so politely told by the IT guy in my department that he doesn’t have time to help me I frantically run to the library to see if I can print there. Things don’t go super smoothly and a few tears and some very friendly library staff later the first copy comes out of the printer… covered in black marks and looking decidedly shabby. I abort the library mission and decide to head to office works.

Sprinting across campus I get half way to my car before realising that I probably left my USB at the library. I pause – conveniently next to a bunch of construction workers who probably enjoyed the site of a frantic looking woman in a short skirt emptying the contents of her bag on to the footpath. The USB isn’t there but in a moment of clarity I see my laptop and realise it doesn’t matter. The sprint continues. I get back to my car to find an $83 parking ticket (which I probably deserve, I’ve been parking there illegally on and off for the last four years…), but today? Of all days!

Onto office works and I tell my sob story to the kind man who says he can print my thesis but to get the colour pages into it he will have to do the whole thing in colour at a cost of $300 per copy (I need four). He takes pity on me and presses print, promising to only charge me for black and white. I sit twiddling my thumbs for 30mins only to discover that he has printed it single sided… The margins are set for double sided so the printing begins again, only this time it ends up black and white. Another 30mins passes.

Half way out the door marvelling at the phone-book sized manuscripts in my arm I notice that the page order of one is all messed up. I go back to the kind man and we figure out and rectify the problem. Another 20mins passes.

I leave office works wondering if it really matters that there are no colour pages. By this stage I’ve lost all capacity to make rational decisions and stupidly think that with 2 hours to go I can get the colour pages in. An unnamed hero prints them at work, I pick them up, take them to office works and get the necessary holes punched in the side. I frantically call a friend to met her in her office to do the page switch.

We now have about 30mins before submission time. I explain what needs to be done and get on to sorting out the pages. At some point I look up, horrified to see my friend in a tangle, undoing the coils of the spiral… “shit! not like that!”. Miscommunication on my part, and turns out that she actually saved the day – we definitely didn’t have enough time to unbind and then rebind four copies of my thesis. We resort to scissors and glue. I’m so exhausted by this stage I figure it doesn’t actually matter.

The examiners wont care. Will they???

Crisis averted 10mins before submission time, we head over to the little office and I sign my life away and collect my congratulatory mug (thanks ANU – is that all my magnum opus is worth?). Over celebratory drinks my supervisor tells me that submission day crises are part of the right of passage. While I agree to a certain extent, I’d say that the major lesson from this day is:

DON’T PRINT, BIND and SUBMIT your PhD on the same day.

Glad to hear it all worked out Carina! Have anyone else had a similar experience? What are your suggestions for getting through the printing / binding / submitting process?

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56 thoughts on “How NOT to hand in your PhD

  1. Since you’re based at College of Forestry and Conservation, I must admit that I expected to see a story about how you refused to hand it in on paper!

    Congratulations after what sounds like a horrendously stressful affair. I hope you’ve had chance to celebrate since!

  2. Maybe this is why our University now takes PDF electronic copies only. Although, I think we still need 4 copies of the full draft by Final Seminar. Such a lot of paper!

    • How sensible. It seems more logical to present PDF copies, as the thesis is not completed until it is marked. Few libraries will take bound, printed copies of the thesis, even when it is complete. It is often more for the student, their supervisor/s and anyone else who wants a copy.

  3. Oh Carina! I feel quite sick reading this! Congratulations on getting the thesis in and bound. As I count down my final weeks before I have to go through this cruel and stressful process, I’m dreading a day such as you’ve described. While I’m certainly not planning on printing and binding on the same day, at the rate I’m going, one can never tell. Your cautionary tale is incentive to continue the push to get everything done with leeway to review if necessary. That’s the plan. Let’s hope I can execute it!

  4. Congratulations on submission, I hope you celebrated after your day!
    I had to laugh about the colour/black&white deliberations .. I had the same quandary. I really don’t think the markers cared, even though I did go with colour eventually!

    Having just completed (all over bar the graduation ceremony), I have to say that the end feels like an anti-climax because it is such a trickle of paperwork and bureaucratic steps. I decided about 6 months before completion that I would have a party when I handed in my thesis, because no matter what the outcome, THAT was the achievement. It feels like handing it in -was- possibly the biggest milestone in the completion process.
    I also intended to have a celebration when I received the confirmation letter, but that hasn’t happened (yet). Maybe next year – when our next graduation ceremony is held!

  5. Congratulations on completing your PhD Carina! I thought my experience was horrible, but I cant imagine how stressfull yours would have been! I had to submit my thesis a few days before my due date because due date was in a public holiday, and I was leaving the day before for an international conference. After printing, binding and getting everything ready, my application forms did not come back signed in time from relevant people!! I was then frantically trying to get a hold of people to get the forms signed in time, but was not able to, and then despesrately begging the thesis examiner officer to understand my situation and allow me another 2 wks extension! Anyway, during my delay I found a few more formatting mistakes and decided to make use of the extra time and re-print my thesis and submit! I am still awaiting my results from thesis examiners and I hope all goes well for you as well! Good luck.

  6. You got a cup? I got a chocolate bar with the university logo on it that looked a few years old haha. Maybe they had it made when I enrolled four years prior?

    • At Melbourne Uni you get a balloon. Before my own submission I thought this was a bit cheap, but actually it rocks… Total strangers who are ‘in the know’ and see you carrying it around afterwards come up and say congratulations. It’s wonderful!

      • I got nothing – not even a congratulatory email after I graduated until 3 months later when the head of Dept was embarrased into congratulating me. What a crock.
        Then they lost the library copy of the final thesis !
        I suspect I wasn’t part of the ‘inner circle’.

  7. Oh my God. I’m approaching submission and reading this actually made me feel ill. Thanks for the tip. Can’t believe you didn’t have a nervous breakdown in the middle of all that.

  8. I sympathise COMPLETELY! I was actually working in the UK when my exegesis was to be submitted, so I had a team of family and friends doing the leg work on my behalf (I was skyping through to them the whole time – which was the middle of the night in the UK – but i hadn’t slept for the last few days anyway so that didn’t really matter). I’d done all the formatting myself (DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS) and there were problems with turning all the chapters into PDF’s and loading them into dropbox. I’d also stupidly decided to incorporate some prints on tracing paper. It was all to complicated. But my dad and sister set about printing at my dad’s work – hundreds of pages flying through the air and being collated on various desks around the office. The printer was overwhelmed – two pages being fed through the printer at once meaning that there were blank pages appearing in the final… i ignored this and told them to just keep going. Once printed I had dad drop them at the binder, another friend pick them up once done. She had to stick in a DVD on the relevant page and drop them in at uni. I got a text message when it was done.

    I post this as advice to others – BE IN THE COUNTRY, and also as a way to thank my family and friends for being there at the end for me! Couldn’t have done it without you.

  9. Hi, everything goes wrong when you leave things to the last moment, but often it cannot be helped! I was resident in Hong Kong and doing my PhD through an Australian University. It would have been much cheaper to get binding done in HK but much more troublesome: finding the printer, giving them detailed instructions of university requirements, picking up the manuscript, checking to see if all is well, amending stuff and then going to a courier to spend $ in sending it to Australia. I sent a link via Dropbox to the on-campus university printer/binder – expensive in Aussie $ but they know the ropes about thesis binding and they could also pick up mistakes in my formatting (which means that they could be easily fixed); furthermore, they could deliver the manuscripts to the university department to send out to the examiners. Peach of mind! I collected some personal copies when I cam to Sydney some months later for my graduation ceremony.

  10. Congratulations Carina! Stressful as it has been, it looks like you made it. I hope you have had an opportunity to sit back and savor the moment when you realized that you just handed in your thesis.

    I have not even started my PhD and of course, I plan to get on the wagon ASAP. However, I once read and have noted it many times over the years that when there is a deadline, regardless of how big or small the project is, it seems to extend itself and drag till the last moment. I hope I learn soon enough not to do that. :)

    Congratulations again! and Good Luck!

  11. The way you pulled that off is worth a PhD in its own right! I found my self laughing and empathizing all at the same time. You are definitely a resilient soul! Congratulations!

  12. My sister and I bound her thesis in the back of the car while my father drove us at speed to the university; she sprinted across to the campus to get it in the door with 1 minute to spare. She takes after her mother, who finished handwriting a thesis in an airport lounge, and left it with my grandmother and aunt to pull a three day typing and collating marathon to get it in on time. Hilarious read! And NOT the way I do things – but it brought back many family stories. Thanks.

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  14. congratulations! Fortunately, the printing/formatting was a problem I already encountered during my Masters, so I was warned. Never print/edit the last day of submission.My only issue was that I didn’t know until 3h before the final deadline whether I had passed. But that was “simply” waiting for the signatures and then walking over with the (a day earlier printed) dissertation to the office. I got no mug, I had to search someone to give me the confirmation signature that I had submitted…very anticlimactic.

  15. This reminds me of my master’s thesis, last minute submission, colour printer breaks down, I ran off to library, printed out the stuff only to realize that it was in black & white, takes another print out and this time the colour printer runs off its colour toner, much perplexed, I ran off to another medical library, took out the colour print, only to realize that the diagrams were only coloured, & not the words in text which were meant to be part of my bibliography, almost in tears and few minutes left for deadline. I ran off to my professor, she being a kind woman told me that it would be fine, she then wrote few lines of notice on my thesis, and asked me to submit a digital copy (thankfully,, it appears). I borrowed a CD from one of my colleague, but this time computer refuses to burn CD. I went back to my kind professor she gave me a new CD and transferred the data from my USB to my CD. END OF MISERY!! :)

  16. I am due to submit in September and the whole process is still a mystery to me – Carina’s cautionary tale has come at a timely point to remind me to leave space to do all the final bits and bobs – and not on the same day.
    I made a rather silly error submitting my masters thesis – I printed out the wrong version (it was a version that had been through 6 edits since) and with finishing off weariness I got it bound and submitted it without giving it a second look – when I opened the cover it was glaringly obvious that I had handed in the wrong edition! Luckily I didn’t get a terrible mark so all was not lost but I did miss out on a distinction in that part of the course – so it is a well learned lesson to check, check and triple check BEFORE you submit!

  17. Congratulations on finally submitting your thesis, I have submitted mine a month back, and although in our university you need to submit properly formatted, edited, book binded thesis , and it was done a day before (the hard binding and printing took 15 days), the day of the submission was chaotic! I remember running between the submission office and the department, adrenaline pumping, apathetic, determined, all the while teary and on the verge of breaking up. We have to submit clearance form, plagiarism report, copy of published manuscript, CD and list of examiners. This needs signatures and that needs attestations….It was a day I will never forget! But that was the day I saw pride in my thesis supervisor eyes for me. It was compensation enough for the day. I know her standards are high.And if she was so glad, I must have done something right. I felt like a freed bird since then.I celebrated a lot till the day of my viva, then it was another madhouse!!!!!!!!!
    .

  18. Hilarious! Although I appreciate it very much wasn’t at the time. Your cautionary tale has reminded me of a very good friend on the day of submitting her Masters thesis. She finished it so late that in order to persuade the printer to print it, she offered to stuff envelopes for them for 2 hours, before driving 100 miles down the motorway and arriving 5 minutes late to a locked office. She charmed a security guard who let her in. She got a Distinction.

  19. Oh man, I dread this will happen to me in a few months time! Thanks for this post. What a fab read – and a good warning to all. I have every intention to print and bind my thesis several days before submission, but life is what it is. I printed, bound and handed in my masters thesis the same day and swore NEVER AGAIN would I put myself through that kind of hell.

    Never say never…*shudder*

    And we don’t get amazing balloons (or anything for that matter) when we hand in at my uni so I’m thinking of getting one just because I can.

  20. I absolutely agree with Carina; don’t leave the printing and binding to the last minute.
    Of course I never planned to, I’m usually very well organised, but in the end the day I submitted was very similar:
    forgot the office keys, spent the morning burning the appendix on CD, spotted a mistake in the print out and had to swap pages, got to the binder 3 hours before the deadline only to be told he doesn’t have time, carried the heavy print outs through town to another binder who said no problem, I can pick up the copies in 3 hours time – after the deadline. I finally convinced him to do it in 2 hours, picked up the copies, took a taxi to uni and submitted with about half an hour to go. No mug, no balloon, no nothing. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my wonderful office mates and I had a lovely evening celebrating with them.
    Another tip: avoid anything hot (boiling hot lunch on my hands and all over the office kitchen) or sharp (not gonna go into detail) in the final days before submitting!

  21. Hysterical… My MA research by project was a major exhibition of the artworks… I broke a piece of my work on the morning…. @ 9am Examiners were doing their thing at 10am. The smell of superglue was in the air… I’m still surprised I could find the glue :)

  22. Congrats, Carina! I submitted my manuscript this past Monday. My submission experience was calmer but I wrote the document using the formatting guidelines so maybe that’s why. Either way, those final moments of graduate school must be fraught or you wouldn’t finally finish, right? Good luck!

  23. Feeling SOOO much better to see so many supportive replies and stories of similar situations. To all those who have found this an inspiring cautionary tale, I’d say I should add to the post that on reading it after submission I’ve found SOOO many typos and errors that make the ridiculous day seem even more well, ridiculous… No matter how prepared you think you are, how much you swear that your PhD is not going to have stupid errors and chaotic submission crisis, even the best laid plans never come to roost. Good luck to you all!!!

  24. My UK Visa was tied to my funding for my PhD, so I had a hard deadline. My flight was booked for the Sunday, and I only finished proof reading on the Friday morning. But before I could print it a water main burst in the lift foyer on my floor – where the printer was located. I went to lunch hoping it would be fixed by the time I came back. The water was gone, but the printer remained disconnected. Back at my computer I searched the network for other high-capacity printers in the building, found one and went in search of it to double-check it was working. Commenced printing chapter-by-chapter to avoid annoying the people in the other department in which the printer was located. After much running up and down two flights of stairs I had two copies of my thesis, which was the number I needed to submit. I abandoned printing another copy to study from for my viva because it was taking too long. I then printed the colour pages separately on another printer and slotted them in. By this time it was about 2:30. A 20 minute (fast) walk saw me at the binder’s with a promise of a 90 minute turnaround. 60 minutes later I made the trek back to the binder’s, arriving just as my thesis was ready (and marvelled at the history student whose thesis was two telephone-book sized volumes). Another 15 minute walk across campus to make the actual submission; the office was going to close at 5pm and not reopen until Monday. Mission accomplished at 4:45pm on a Friday, with a flight out of the country on Sunday! The backup plan was for my classmate to submit the bound copies on the Monday, but having worked so hard I wanted to do it myself! I didn’t get a mug or a balloon, only a carbon-copy receipt to acknowledge the submission!

  25. I don’t claim to have done everything right, but I would strongly recommend setting aside a week for printing, ring-binding and handing in the thesis. It does alleviate some of the stress. Other tips: have a new USB stick, and buy MORE ink and paper than you imagine you could possibly need. Believe me, dashing out for more supplies is a hassle you can do without! I set out to submit that thesis before I turned 51. I did it, the day before!

  26. My predicament would have been different, I would have had a printed copy of my thesis and then I would be doing all the editing, and then printing and editing and printing and editing……

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  28. Thank you for sharing and big congratulation to you! YOU deserve it. I still remember the day i submitted my Master’s thesis. I stayed up the night before, correcting the format and references as there are spelling mistakes in Endnote system. At around 2 pm, one hour ahead of the submission time, i was starving and asked for some food from a girl sit next to me in the library. she gave me a half-eaten melted chocolate. I ate it! Then i ran to the bindary and then to the pg office. Only 5 minutes ahead of the due time! Hew! my fingers were trembling!

  29. That’s so familiar! My submission day was spent manually collating much of my thesis (I can’t remember why, but I was kneeling on the floor of the department photocopy room for about 2 hours), then running back and forth across campus to get it spiral bound, and then handed in.
    I handed mine in exactly 3 years after I enrolled… I guess I thought there would be trumpets and a red carpet. In the end, one of the secretaries gave me a cup of tea and a biscuit because she felt sorry for me.
    Congratulations though!

  30. When I collected the first bound copy of my thesis two days before submission, both the title and my name had been misspelled. In Japan you submit a book bound phd with embossed text and it takes normally at least a week to do this. I had two days left to get it re-bound and correctly embossed to be placed in the national library… it worked in the end.

  31. And here’s me thinking these things only happen to me! I managed to get caught up in an armed police arrest on the way to collect my thesis from the book binder!

      • It’s quite a story, and one I fear I’ll never live down. Day of submission and I was having the most awful day due to many of the issues Carina describes above…she has my full sympathy!

        As the train broke down before reaching my destination, I decided to walk the rest of the way to the bookbinder – in the pouring rain. I was walking down a side street and had been following two gentlemen for some time. As we approached a junction, I made to pass the two men just as two police vans, each carrying six armed officers, skidded around the corner and blocked us in. The twelve armed officers proceeded to jump out of the vans and bellow “ON THE FLOOR”! So, both men lay down on the ground, by which time I was pinned against the wall within the circle of officers. The officers screamed instructions at the men as they carried out full body searches and made the arrests. It then became apparent that there was an unmarked police car on the other side of the road and a civilian officer entered the circle, guided me out, stopped the traffic!, and helped me across the road, much to the amusement of the now quite extensive crowd that had gathered to watch the event!

        I then made it to the bookbinder, whose first question was “does your thesis have A3 size pages in it”? I felt the panic rise once again as I answered “eh no it does not”. “Oh dear” came the response, “we’ve had a further printing problem”. Anyway, after another very stressful hour I was on my way to hand in the thesis, phew!

  32. I am so relieved that I will not have to go through this! My University has embraced the brave new world of “electronic submission” :)

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  35. I’m submitting next week – and will have to send the thesis off to the printer in Cork to be bound, and to be submitted from there. I’m only a little concerned at this – I am too tired to be more than a little concerned. What could possibly go wrong?? (Oh, and helpful advice, even at this late stage, is most welcome, and will elicit the whole, complex tale of why I happen to be three hundred miles from my place of submission…)

  36. when was I count down my final weeks before I have to go through this cruel and stressful process, I’m dreading a day such as you’ve described. :-) that days are very pain full for me :-)

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