Desperately Seeking Inspiration

I’m endlessly fascinated by the search terms that lead people to my website. Today these desperate words typed into google led them to some not-exactly-directly-related pearls of wisdom: inspire me to write my thesis.


I remember those days. I finished my PhD thesis in 1996, having started researching it in 1991 (and taken a year off due to some bone breakage), but it sure felt like it took a lot, lot, lot longer than that. At the time writing my thesis seemed by turns nightmarish, unendurable, hallucinegenic, boring, fun, hideous, never-ending and plain out-and-out pointless. I endlessly procrastinated until, faced with the prospect of no more scholarship, I buckled down and wrote day after day, night after night, barely sleeping, or eating, or doing anything else, until I was a sobbing insane mess and the thesis was finished.

Eventually it became The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, a book I’m still ambivalent about because it’s not the book I wish it was. To me it will always be my PhD thesis: the monster that almost broke my brain.

Hmmm, that’s not very inspiring is it? Here’s why you should write your thesis:

  • Until I finished mine I had never managed to finish anything long. I had started many novels, but never finished one. Finishing my 120,000 word thesis taught me not only that I could crap on at length, but that I could produce a (mostly) coherent, whole text. That’s a mighty fine feeling and a bloody useful skill. I’ve since finished four different novels. Now when I start a novel I’m no longer afraid I won’t be able to finish it, just that it will suck.
  • The research skills I learned have come in mighty handy over and over again. Yours will too.
  • Finishing my PhD thesis meant that I was eligible to apply for a post-doctoral fellowship. I was lucky enough to get an Australian Research Council one, which ended up changing my life. Once you’ve got your PhD you too can apply for post-docs as well as academic jobs. No comment on how much fun writing all those applications is (I applied for six and got one and was ecstatic with my strikerate).
  • Having a PhD under your belt can be helpful in landing other jobs. A PhD proves that you can stick to and finish a major project, that you can organise yourself, that you know your way around a library (or whatever facilities you used for your research—don’t want to leave out science types), and that you know how to make a very small amount of money go a very long way.

On the other hand, I know plenty of people who haven’t got a PhD who are quite capable of finishing long prose pieces, have great research skills, a job, and know how to make a tiny budget stretch . . .


  1. janet on #

    another motivator is that if you don’t finish your thesis, you will always feel that the time you spent on it was utterly wasted. I know from experience.

  2. Justine on #

    Yup, there’s another good reason. Though I guess it depends on how far along with it you are. If you’ve only just started, giving up is no big deal. Especially if you’re doing your PhD somewhere like Australia where there’s no course work only thesis.

  3. claire on #

    how about idiots like me, who are trying to finish our mfa theses, which are novels, involving shitloads of historical and scientific research? don’t we get a triple prize: for writing a longer thesis than we have to, for killing two birds with one stone, and for finding a way to make wimpy, half-assed, non-exhaustive research have a point? shouldn’t i be getting more than just an mfa? like published or laid or something?

  4. Justine on #

    Claire: All I can do is offer my heartfelt condolences. Good luck with it all! Onya!

  5. Stephanie Burgis on #

    Thanks for posting this, Justine! it’s exactly what I needed to read right now, as I’ve just started a full-time job and still have my PhD thesis hanging over me. Man, is this time for some serious motivation…

  6. Justine on #

    Stephanie: Glad to be of service. Good luck!

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