How to write and defend your PhD thesis in 2 months

  1. Start working from home. It’s lonely but it allows you to have whatever writing schedule you need every day and keeps you from distracting yourself by hanging out with your labmates. Only go to lab for mandatory meetings with your advisor or to get information out of your lab notebooks.
  2. Teach your labmates all your lab jobs (editing websites, taking over the lab safety and hazardous waste removal jobs, etc) for you while you are out. They will do them so beautifully and without asking very many questions. For this, you are forever grateful.
  3. Sometimes working from home means going to a coffeeshop and drinking a cappuccino while working. Your advisor agrees to meet you at the coffeeshop so you don’t have to go all the way into lab to meet with her. Also sometimes your labmates will join you.
  4. Work every day for 1.5 months straight, taking breaks when you need them but never taking a break that lasts for an entire day.
  5. Get on an antidepressant that reminds you to eat and sleep on a semi regular basis despite all the anxiety and stress you constantly feel. As soon as you defend, you can get off of it but for now, it’s necessary.
  6. Go home to California for a week and write feverishly at the desk you used to do your homework at in high school. Your parents will make you tasty food, force you to take breaks when you need them, and cheer you on. Plus one or both of them will stay up late every night playing on their tablets while you write so you won’t be as lonely.

    You and Gustav making weird faces on a tiny plane heading home…
  7. Exercise at least a little every day. It helps break up the monotony and the lamity of sitting at a desk all day and it reminds you that you are a human – not a writing machine. Soccer, swimming, running, and biking work pretty well. Take Cobalt on your exercise adventures if he’s around.
    One of your exercise breaks includes going to see the aspens change color with Titanium and her mom. So pretty… you could have stayed there all day. You tried to but Titanium and her mom said you had to go back to work…

    While you were looking for pretty aspens, you also found this cute little puff…
  8. Attend two of your friends’ weddings. Weddings let you take a break from your stress bubble and remind you that you are surrounded by wonderful people. :)
    One of the weddings you attend is at the Denver Botanic Gardens during the Chihuly glass exhibit. Having gone to undergrad in Tacoma, Washington, you can recognize a Chihuly piece anywhere but you still find it beautiful in this setting…

    One of your favorites is this boat. You even come back after the wedding to photograph it all lit up at night.
  9. Let Cobalt take you to a movie sometimes. It’s nice to do stuff with just Cobalt even though you are a stress ball.
  10. Go to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with Cobalt, your sister in law, niece, and nephew because it’s great to spend time with people you love and also because the balloons are majestic and awesome to photograph.
    You go on opening weekend and it is packed! But it is a perfect day for balloons so the sky is also packed!
    You and your family get there early (~6 am) to see the first balloons go up. Included is this Wicked balloon, which you think is pretty neat because you are going to see Wicked later that day.

    You are among the first people to ever witness the Yoda balloon, which was unveiled this day.
  11. Learn how to use Adobe Illustrator in 3 days (your skills expand drastically when you NEED to make Figures)
  12. Go suit shopping with your friends the day you turn in your thesis. This is great because you get to shop for fancy adult clothes in celebration of turning in something epic and also you really need a suit for your defense talk…

    Here you are super nervous because your defense is the next day. At least the suit looks great!
  13. Go to your favorite undergrad conference to recruit new graduate students to CU even though you defend your thesis in a week. You’re stressed out, yes, but the students’ excitement to go to graduate school and learn is inspiring. Plus you have really cool conversations with your fellow recruiters, your sister (who is recruiting for her school), and some of your friends that you haven’t seen in forever (who are recruiting for their schools!)

    Look at you and your fellow CU grad students at the SACNAS 2014 conference, recruiting new grad students for your school! You look like a freak, but at least your friends look good. :)
  14. Be prepared to reanalyze your data at least 4 times while writing and then again right after you defend.
  15. Surprise your advisor by finishing everything on time even when she thought that “no one” could do everything in that short amount of time.
  16. Present your research to your family and friends with only one minor technical glitch that is easily solved. Do not lose your composure over the glitch or over the whole situation because your presentation turned out awesome and you really know your stuff!
  17. Shake hands with your committee faculty after your defense because you’re a doctor now! Yes, it feels weird and anticlimactic now but just keep smiling and it will slowly feel more and more real! Congratulations! Now it’s time to figure out what’s next…

PS – Is it obvious that you just read Neil Patrick Harris’ Choose Your Own Adventure Autobiography?

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One thought on “How to write and defend your PhD thesis in 2 months

  1. Hi Sarah~

    Congratulations!!! I am so happy for you. I hope you can exhale now and have somewhat of a life. I know you are back to work, but I hope it will be enjoyable and not so stressful. I have not been getting your posts, so I missed the introduction of your kitty. Please send me a picture if you can!

    Marilyn

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