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 . . .