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!

Related Posts

Parenting through a PhD (without going completely insane)

16 thoughts on “Celebrations

  1. My Reflecting Pool says:

    I had an epic gaming party two weeks after my graduation. Friends and family flew into town and we partied for over 12 hours. Xbox, Wii, RockBand, dice and cards games. We grilled burgers and sausages. It was an amazing day! My dissertation was about women gamers (and I am a gamer myself) so it was seriously apropos and it felt great to game GUILT FREE since I was DONE. 😉

    • ingermewburn says:

      How wonderful – love it! I threw a party at a local pub with another PhD student who I shared an office with. We spent 6 months talking about the party in the dark times of that final stage. We paid for some food and put some money on the bar tab so people could have a drink on us. It was a great day 🙂

  2. Elissa says:

    I can’t imagine a big celebration immediately after finishing – I was a complete wreck when I submitted my honours thesis, I can only imagine it being worse when I finish my (still hypothetical) PhD! But it was lovely to go home and eat an entire camembert and enjoy the sudden emptiness in my head. Finally some guilt-free couch time 😛

    My partner has recently finished his PhD, and we missed the timing for a submission party or a result party or a revisions party, but there WILL be a graduation party, if I have to plan the whole thing myself! The delay does have the added bonuses of a) better weather, and b) money to throw a party with! (after you’ve been living off your savings for the last few (6?) months trying to get the damn thing done..).

  3. Dr Karen McAulay says:

    Thanks for your comments! Elissa, you’ve just reminded me what I missed out on – I’m still in deficit on the guilt-free couch time! I wonder if anyone else found it hard to wind down afterwards?

  4. Auzziechap says:

    Hi Karen,
    what a lovely mood you put me in after I read your post, but only for a couple of minutes, then reality hit.

    I am just starting my PhD and, although your feelings of joy for finishing your PhD are so removed from my situation, this ‘dream’ gave me something to look forward to despite feeling that this ‘future’ celebration is so far in the future that I might die before getting there.

    As an offshore PhD candidate and family man surviving on part-time teaching with a housewife and two kids of 6 and 8 years old, it feels that it is going to take me forever to finish.

    • ingermewburn says:

      I can certainly relate to this feeling! I felt like that quite a few times while I was studying as I started masters by research when my son was 8 months old (part time) and finished PhD when he was 7. Poor little guy had no idea of a reality outside of my study.

      After I read your comment I asked him: “so, are you happy that I finished my PhD?” – hoping he might have some reassuring words from the kid’s point of view. He replied: “Well… yes, but you still write a lot. And sometimes you are in a conference, like in a different part of the country. Sometimes I still miss you”.

      Work / life balance is difficult in any job, but harder I think when your job /study is truly interesting to you. There’s no good answers really – but I hope you find strategies that work for you. I wrote an earlier post on parenting through a PhD if you are interested: http://thethesiswhisperer.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/parenting-through-a-phd-or-5-ways-not-to-go-completely-insane/

    • Karenmca says:

      Hold on to the dream, Gary! I have this theory that being under some pressure is actually a motivator in itself. You’ll be all the more determined to reach the end! What do you mean by ‘offshore’, incidentally? In UK terms, that would mean you worked on an oil-rig …? Which might be the case, but I suspect I’ve misunderstood somehow!

      • Auzziechap says:

        You are right, I mostly seem to get things done on time and well when I am under pressure. the main motivator is the fear of failure.

        what I meant when I said ‘offshore’ is that I am doing my PhD away from Australia in an Australian university. So I am based ‘offshore’ or overseas, in Lebanon, to be specific

  5. Tseen Khoo says:

    The main feeling I had about finally submitting my thesis for examination was RELIEF. I didn’t think I’d feel like celebrating for quite a while after that but one of my office-mates – bless her diligent soul! – ducked out and got me a big, fat chocolate eclair from the campus cafe, and left it on my desk with a lovely note of congratulations. That put me in the right mood thereafter.

    • Karenmca says:

      Tseen Khoo, you’re a woman after my own heart! Love your gravatar ‘profile’. And three cheers for kind colleagues who cheer you on!

  6. Ros says:

    I have been planning my celebrations for a long time! I’m writing a PhD on the Song of Songs so one thing I’d like is this fabulous print from the St John’s Illustrated Bible project. Also, I’ve spent most of my PhD time working at a distance from my university, so although I will go there to graduate, I’ll want a graduation party nearer home so that I can celebrate with all the many, many people who’ve supported me in all kinds of ways through the process.

    But right now I have to finish my current chapter – must think of a suitable celebration! Usually I just take the next day off.

  7. Ben says:

    Great article, it’s so important to acknowledge small achievements because especially when writing up, it can be quite a long time between reaching big milestones. I try and have a mini reward each day for completing my goals.

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