By way of a birthday greeting to the Thesis Whisperer, I thought I’d write a piece about celebrations.

Sophie's PhD celebration spread

At this, I can almost imagine harassed postgraduates snarling: “Celebrations?  I’ll give her celebrations!  The only celebration there’s gonna be around here is the day I get my PhD, and that’s a good way off!”

Relax, gentle reader!  For a couple of minutes, I’d like you to stop and think about those very celebrations.   Make a cup of tea (not coffee), play some music, and allow yourself to dream

The six months before I graduated with my PhD were fraught, to say the very least.  At the risk of sounding self-pitying, I must state quite factually that I was working full time, apart from taking the last three of my four weeks’ writing-up sabbatical.

Moreover, my husband had two knee-replacement operations during that time, so I was also support-worker, housekeeper, and family taxi to three adolescent sons.  Dreaming was a welcome escape from the reality of my daily existence!

I’m very goal-oriented.  I could almost go so far as to say that I wouldn’t get very far if I didn’t have goals to aim for, and in that final six months, I scored quite a few. And each goal represented a celebration.  May I suggest just a few celebration-worthy targets for you?

Identify some Mini Goals

Assuming you’ve mapped out an overall plan for your thesis, make sure you set deadlines for completing each chapter.  Write a timetable and put it somewhere prominent.  You could also keep track of your word-count, if that is a motivator for you.  But whatever you do, make sure you celebrate the completion of each chapter – whether the first completion, the next meeting with your supervisor, or the revised completion.

Plan to celebrate with family and/or friends at each milestone.  Mind you, make sure your celebration is appropriate. ( I charged into work with a fruitcake one day – only to discover that I was the only person who liked the stuff …!)

Editing is work too

Once you’ve got the chapters written, you’ll doubtless be spending quite a bit of time on proof-reading, formatting, checking footnotes and so on.  Believe me, completing any of these stages is worth a celebration in itself.

Making it real

Getting the thesis bound is worth a coffee with friends, at the very least – as is handing in your thesis at the Uni for examination.  Now you should go and buy a bottle of wine/ Prosecco/ beer/ sparkling fruit-juice/ or anything else that helps you feel triumphant!  However low-key your earlier celebrations may have been, this is a big one.

Surviving the Viva

Most of us leave feeling relieved that it’s over, perhaps a little downcast at the extent of the revisions, or just – strangely – deflated after all the build-up to this most important event.  The day after the viva can feel like a major anti-climax.  You’re so nearly there, but you daren’t yet let yourself celebrate.  Okay, then – have a quiet, private celebration, but do mark the occasion.  It’s been a big day.

(Editors Note: most Australian students will not have a viva or presentation to examiners. However many universities, including RMIT, have a mandatory completion seminar where you must present the work done and answer questions. This is as good an excuse as any to have a celebration 🙂

The graduation itself!

Finally, finally, you’ve got graduation to look forward to.  And now you’ll really be able to let your hair down.  So, in the time between the viva and graduation itself, you need to plan your party.

After all your hard work, this is your reward, so make it memorable!  Even if you’re on a tight budget, I would urge you to make sure you mark this important milestone appropriately.  You’ve worked for it, you’ve earned it, and the memories will last forever.

I didn’t start planning until my revisions had been accepted, but I had been dreaming of a party for some months beforehand, so pulling together a guest-list was easy.  Finding a venue – not quite so easy, but I was more than happy with the Italian restaurant that I eventually picked.

We had a fabulous night, and it was gratifying to see that our sons were enjoying themselves just as much.  I felt it was really important to let kids and my ‘significant other’ feel part of the celebrations – after all, they had lived through my PhD struggles, too!  But the experience can’t have damaged them too much – the eldest is already dreaming of doing doctoral studies himself … despite only just having taken his last ever school exam! So, let me see – in another six or so years, will I be helping plan another special event …?  I can hardly wait!

How do you plan to celebrate when you finish? We’d love to hear about your plans – or memories!

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