How to start writing your Thesis

I recently reflected on what I wish I had done before I started writing my Thesis and shared this with the Biochemical Society. My basic tips are around Thesis structure, supervisors and remembering your audience!

Click the link for more on How to start writing your Thesis

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PhD Thesis corrections: How to get them done and dusted!

So you have had your Viva and have finally passed your PhD!

Well done! Go and celebrate!

But we all know that thoughts of the corrections are lurking- try and suppress these thoughts for a few days.

What type of corrections have you got?

3 Months 

The most common result of a Viva is 3 months corrections. This means there really isn’t too much wrong with the Thesis, which is great, but it still means you have to open it up again.

Common changes:

Formatting, typos, additional explanation/clarification, minor alteration of figures, in some cases editing, occasionally re-writing a page or so of the discussion.

1 Year 

Our University has recently removed the 6 months option which means if the examiner thinks the corrections may take longer than 3 months, the next option is 1 year! This can alter your perception of the amount of work that needs to be done quite a lot. It might be that the changes are similar to the ones mentioned above, just that the number of these changes are greater. Or it could be that the examiner wants some data shown in a different way or takes a different view on a set of results, meaning multiple changes in the discussion to reflect this. These changes are not necessarily hard but may take time and if you are working full time may take more than the 3 months. So do not be deterred by 1 year for corrections, you will probably complete them in less.

Should you start your corrections quickly or wait?

Personally it took me 3 weeks to get started on my corrections.

I felt this worked quite well and would recommend it. It gave me time to celebrate properly and have a relax. It also gave time for my examiner to send me the full correction list ( I had a bullet point list given to me at the end of the Viva of the main changes) and for my letter to arrive from the University.This contained both my internal and external examiners reports- this allowed me to have a better idea of what they thought of the thesis, so I could understand my corrections better.

How do you force yourself to start?

I had a good Viva but by this point I was bored of my Thesis. I had revised from it in the 3 weeks leading up to the Viva and worked on it for months previously. After my 3 hour chat about it I felt well and truly done with it!

For me after the 3 weeks of ignoring the corrections, I started to feel a little worried. I thought perhaps these will take longer than I have estimated, I’ve got a Job now maybe it will take the whole 3 months!

This made me look at them and work out a timetable for getting them done!

I was lucky that the Christmas Holidays were coming up so I scheduled to do a lot of work then, I did a bit but not as much as planned and just enjoyed Christmas. January arriving fired me up, I was not having corrections hanging over me in 2017!

Because of not using the holidays as much as planned I had to do corrections in the evenings and on the weekends, which is a pretty common situation, but is still difficult to find the motivation after a full day of work.

In total it took me about 10 days of work but scattered around rather than working solidly. Its difficult to force yourself to do it but you just have to keep telling yourself how close you are.

I would recommend making a timetable and having an extra incentive to be finally done.

Also it is important to factor in allowing your internal examiner time to look over your corrections and approve them for final submission.

Many universities no longer require a hardbound copy of your thesis which takes the stress of printing out of the equation, with just a simple PDF upload to do instead.

But it does feel good to get the hardbound copy done. I wouldn’t wait too long after getting your corrections approved to do this step as otherwise ending the PhD process gets dragged out and I know many researchers that even after 3 years of  post doc haven’t yet found time to get their Thesis bound.



Hardbound copy of the Thesis means time to celebrate!


Finishing a PhD is a long process with many end points, finishing lab work, finishing a first draft, handing in the Thesis, having a Viva but handing in corrections is the true end point on the journey.



(and if you are not quite finished yet know that it is possible!)


What to expect in the PhD Viva: My Experience

So after all those experiments and months of writing you are finally facing the most daunting step in the PhD process, The Viva.

The idea of the viva can be pretty scary to a PhD student (it was to me). There are plenty urban legends about terrible vivas and horrible examiners to put you off and make you very nervous about you own.

And though there are plenty of articles out there saying what a great experience a viva can be, when you are preparing for a viva you can be very skeptical of these articles. In hindsight though they weren’t far off what happened for me.

My Experience (on 28th November 2016)

My own personal experience of the viva was very positive,  it still felt like a test but the time passed quickly (3hrs) and none of the questioning felt confrontational. At points when I didn’t know any more on a subject we just moved on. At some points it was a very fluid and flexible conversation between me and both examiners about some of the constraints that are currently in our area of research.

The Process 

  • First my examiners put me and ease by explaining how the next few hours would progress and which chapters we would spend more time on and which we would discuss briefly.
  • Then we had some more settling questions about why I picked this PhD, what did I do on my other PhD rotations, what did I do for my placement and what am I up to next.
  • After that we started on the introduction, there were questions on the two main aspects of my thesis, the bacteria I worked on and the signalling molecule I focused on. In my case there were no direct questions about identifying specific ideas from specific papers, just questions where you were summarizing or expanding on general things you had written in the intro.
  • We skipped the methods chapter complete (which appears quite common from talking to other students, but I had prepared to be quizzed about them) and methods were discussed when talking about particular results as we went through.
  • Then onto the results chapters…

Examples of questions I was asked

  • What value do you think is high enough to to be considered a significant interaction?
  • Did you think of doing X / why couldn’t you do X?
  • What other control could you have done/ what would have been a better control?
  • What was the aim of that mutation?
  • Talk me through these set of results (to clarify difficult or confusing results).
  • Explain how you set X up and what sort of error could you encounter?
  • Could you have done a scatter chart to show distribution of values, rather than relying on the average?
  • Talk me through your proposed hypothesis and explain why you have proposed it.
  • Could you have used software to do this?
  • How easy is X  to count or define?

And many other questions I can no longer remember!

Then closing question:

What would you focus on next?

I liked this question and felt it allowed the viva to end well as there were many potential experiments to investigate the work further.

The wait 

I was sent out of the room and about 10-15 minutes later go back in, have my hand shaken and am told ‘congratulations’.

We then sit down and briefly discuss:

  • My performance in the viva and the overall quality of the thesis. I was very happy that they said it was obvious it was my own work and that I had worked hard on it.
  • Then on to the 3 month corrections, my external examiner had prepared a list of 6 bullet points, this included some typos, some cross referencing, formatting the reference list, adding detail to some figure legends, making some figures larger, checking the scale bars on some images.

However am told my internal will send a full list later.

How I felt after the viva

I disagree with a lot of the stuff out there that says it’s an anticlimax. For me this had been the last hurdle of my PhD journey and I was so glad for it to be over it. I couldn’t stop smiling.


Holding my Thesis with pride after the Viva

It’s a difficult one to know how to celebrate, I was fairly low key on the day but it didn’t matter to me as I was just so happy.

And the first thought the next morning was that it was done, the viva was done, the PhD was done and that I had done enough! This was accompanied with such a sense of relief. I felt a sense of total freedom- even more so than when I handed in the thesis. As though handing in felt good there was still part of my brain holding back as I knew it wasn’t quite the end.

Some may argue it is still not the end as there are corrections and I agree. But for the following week after my viva I found it easy to block out the thought of corrections and enjoyed using the title of Dr.

Tips and Advice for Viva day 

  • Start re-reading thesis about 3 weeks before if you have a full time job.
  • Try and stop preparing at about 6pm the night before.
  • Get your outfit and materials  ready.
  • Spend the evening relaxing or do something active if you  are having trouble relaxing.
  • Make sure you eat breakfast.
  • Know where you have to wait.
  • Remember that the examiner is not their to trick you and they are not looking to fail you.

Good luck!






How to celebrate submitting your Thesis


Enjoying drinks with friends

So the thesis is finally submitted! You feel relived its finally done so now its time to celebrate!

But submitting your thesis can be an odd occasion to know how to celebrate.

Common issues that can get in the way of celebrating are:

  • You are too tired to properly celebrate.
  • Your PhD friends are still writing up so are not available to celebrate with you.
  • You feel like you are not officially done as you are still waiting for the viva date and result and the official point at which you become a doctor.
  • After months of focused work you feel at a loss at what to do now you actually have the choice.
  • You feel uncertain about the future as the PhD has ended and there is a new start ahead, which can be exciting and scary.
  • The process of producing the thesis was such a arduous task that its tough to come up with a big enough celebration to compensate for the months of work.


Advice on how to celebrate:

  • Don’t hold back on celebrating NOW, many people find that the hand in feels more like the end of their PhD than the viva.
  • Do whatever you feel like doing do not get pressured into anything due to the expectations of others.
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to do all your celebrating on the day you hand in, the celebrations can be spread across the following week (possibly even the following month).
  • Do something to help relax you into your new hopefully calmer life. I really recommend a massage.
  • Contact friends and family to organise dates to meet up and toast your achievement.
  • With friends that are still writing organise a future date when you are all finished to celebrate together.
  • Possibly treat yourself to a little shopping spree or buy something to mark the occasion.
  • Go to your favourite restaurant or bar.
  • Go to a ‘newly’ opened (while you were too busy writing) restaurant or bar.
  • Spend time with friends and catch up.
  • Consider a change of scene, be this a foreign holiday or just a trip home or to visit friends for a weekend.
  • Let yourself rest, have at least a week of not thinking about what the future holds or what jobs you need to apply for, just try and relax in the moment and recuperate.

Personally, I was initially ecstatic when I handed in my Thesis but had no idea what I wanted to do first.

In the end I ate, drank, got a  massage, slept, went to the pub, had my friends over for the weekend, saw my mum, then started getting ready for a cheap break to Spain to get some last minute sun!

Hope everyone has a great time celebrating, I would love to hear what you did to mark the moment, I bet there are some really novel celebrations that I would never think of.


How to submit your Thesis!


On Monday 19th September 2016 I handed in my PhD Thesis!

When I handed in my thesis it felt like a physical weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

About 6 months of writing produced a single sided thesis that weighed as much as a baby.

Final tips for handing in 

  • Merge the document- I was lucky and word merged my chapters and endnotes fine. The endnotes took about 30 minutes but my laptop didn’t crash like people had warned. The only other thing was all my tables lost their outline but that was easy to add back in using the style tab. Leave a day for merging.  A helpful youtube video about merging documents in word is       
  • Print it on a weekend if possible, I printed mine at the weekend, there was no one else around, so no interruptions by someone pausing your print job. Also hide away some printing paper before hand so you don’t run out. Don’t stress if printer goes crazy a few times, it will work in the end. It took me over 2 hours.
  • Read the submission documents for your university. At Nottingham this meant you handed in two soft bound copies of your thesis with a cd with the pdf of your final thesis too. (Save as pdf from word drop down). Also print and bind a copy for yourself to take to the viva.
  • Double check where you hand it in, again in Nottingham this is at the student services building.
  • If possible get someone to come with you while you wait for thesis binding (1 hour at Nottingham print shop) get a coffee and start to process what you are about to achieve.
  • Get your friend to take a picture of you and your thesis, it’s a momentous day and should be recorded for you.
  • Hand it in, don’t get your hopes up about the people in student services,  even though you are obviously and openly elated to be handing your thesis in it is very rare that they will have any concept of what this achievement means and may be quite grumpy.
  • Get a receipt! Make sure you keep this in case they misplace your thesis.
  • Feel the tension fade away.
  • Go and celebrate, however don’t put pressure on yourself if you are exhausted -the celebrating can continue for at least a week! Also it can take a while for the feeling to fully sink in.
  • Enjoy your first amazing sleep in 6 months.
  • Ring student services a few days later to check your thesis is being processed correctly and is being sent to your examiners.

4 weeks till thesis hand in

This week has been really weird.

Something about it becoming September this week made me realise how close to the end I am and how it’s not much long till I am free!!!!

So this felt great and I was briefly on a high, telling everyone it’s not long to go now!

It motivated me to work some very long days despite being exhausted in the hope of making hand in happen even sooner.

But then reality hit me in the form of a really long to do list I wrote and my discussion taking slightly longer than I’d hoped it would.

These two things were enough to make me feel overwhelmed and realise there was still more work and struggling ahead.

It’s tough to acknowledge this but these last week weeks are probably going to be really hard.

The reason I didn’t finish my discussion as quickly as I hoped was because I was worn out. I had worked myself in to the ground in the days before driven by the tantalising hope that I could submit early, and it caught up with me.

It’s good to remember that writing a thesis is a long process and the best way to complete it without having a breakdown is to pace yourself.

In those days of intensive work I barely moved from my desk and powered myself on icing and coffee. It worked temporarily but it’s not sustainable.

2016-08-31 20.59.31

I realised I needed to relax but I couldn’t because I felt guilty whenever I was not working on my thesis. I couldn’t chill out watching tv or reading a book as my mind kept thinking THESIS. Eventually  I decided I needed to do something active and headed to the gym.

I have finally realised why many busy stressed people make time for the gym, it gets you out of you own head and makes you concentrate on your body and your breathing. I would recommend it if anyone’s struggling at the moment.

This week has reminded me the importance of managing the write up in a healthy way. The Thesis writing will take over your life a bit but you still have to make an effort to get some time away from it!

My advice

  • Pace yourself
  • Go outside
  • Head to the gym to get rid of stress and thesis thoughts
  • Be a realist about these final weeks being hard, we haven’t quite reached the summit yet

(but we are almost there!)




5 weeks till thesis hand in- exhaustion 

So 5 weeks to go and I’m exhausted!

Word count:  Unknown (hopefully under 100,000)

This exhaustion is not just about lack of sleep,  it is a state of mind and overall sense of fatigue with the project. Its a weird feeling as the thesis so near to being finished but still needs that final push to get final version together.

Difficulties with finishing a thesis

There are many difficult aspects to finishing a thesis, currently I am struggling with the monotony.

The process of writing and editing every day is getting too monotonous as I am discussing the same theories that I have been writing about for 5 months in slightly different ways- this makes it hard to stay engaged.

Also I have lots of ‘tidying up’ left to do. Mostly this consists of doing the things I didn’t fancy doing properly at the time properly now. So rough diagrams or semi completed tables now have to be re-visited.

All the little things 

When I started the write up process my to do list was simple- write a thesis,that grew as I started to break it down in to chapters and subheading, then that list started being ticked off over the last 5 months.

But now there is a new list, where  originally  there was:

  • print thesis
  • hand in thesis
  • party

This has expanded to:

  • merge the word files,
  • edit the references,
  • find great printing settings for microscope images
  • compile extra supporting data files
  • find printer in the library that you trust
  • print thesis
  • check the printing quality of the thesis
  • re-print thesis?
  • find embargo form
  • bind thesis
  • hand in thesis
  • Party!!

All these little things have the potential to be tricky and are always more difficult to get to grips with when you are tired and a little bit desperate for it to be finally completed!



Aim for this week

This week I need to write my overall discussion and finish my results chapter 5.

My advice

  • Write out a timetable for the next 35 days, allow at least 3 days clear in the run up to the deadline to allow for illness or other issues.
  • In this timetable write out all the little things you have to do and add to this as you inevitably remember things that you had originally forgotten about.
  • Check that your supervisor knows your planned hand in date, as they probably expect to see the final version and check it briefly before they let you hand it in.
  • Try and visualise how it will feel once you have handed in to get that final bit of motivation.
  • Perhaps even book something to look forward to such as a holiday after your hand in date.