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Finishing a PhD or travelling between continents: let’s do them both!

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Topic: Science  |  Series: My Journey to PhD
My thesis coverAfter the "Thesis Content Treaty", which came into force by the beginning of November, I felt relieved yet ever more determined to finish up the writing and get my PhD. My partner was leaving Europe to return to Australia by the end of February and I wanted to make sure I am finished with my PhD by then. Since I was the first of Ron’s PhD students to graduate from Maastricht University, I had to make special efforts to tick all the bureaucratic boxes. Given my situation, I could not allow for any delays and every step taken had to work out on the first attempt. That of course made things pretty stressful.

The Maastricht University manual for a submission of a PhD thesis became my favourite novel. Since there was nobody at our department to clarify some of the steps, I often found myself calling back and forth with the uni secretariat. Although all the ladies were super kind and helpful, sometimes that was not enough to jink past the academic requirements. One day, out of clear desperation, I even ventured off to another floor of the uni building in blind determination to find someone, who could provide me with answers. I grabbed the first person I saw on the 4th floor and my face said it all: "Help!" Luckily, that person was a secretary of another professor and had broad experience with PhD graduates. Ten minutes later on the way to my office, I was bouncing with joy, knowing what the next three steps in the submission process are going to be.

With the thesis handed in to the assessment committee by the beginning of December, I spent the whole Christmas formatting it for the final print and negotiating with the printing house the best strategy and timing. (The Dutch tradition has it that a PhD student prints out at least 100 thesis-books. These are handed to all the colleagues, committee members, libraries etc.) After Christmas I knew my thesis passed (as expected) and I could finally set the defence date. I selected March 3rd as the Big Day. That left me with two months to finish my non-thesis projects, revise my last paper, get the defence ready, prepare a presentation, finalize printing of the thesis and take care of its distribution – to mention some of the more significant tasks. Along with that, my house tenancy was about to end by the end of February and our flights for the big trip to Australia were booked for March 7th: quite a tight schedule for finishing a PhD, ending residency in a foreign country and travelling between continents.

I felt very tired, but was super motivated to do all the stunts. It is needless to say that the to-do lists were endless. My partner was finishing his projects at ETH in Zurich and had a lot of moving responsibilities on his plate himself. I found a week in my already tight schedule to go to Zurich and help him out packing his lab and house. Looking back, what totally saved me from going totally insane during January and February 2016 was the knowing that my partner would delay his Ozzie flight until my PhD was defended so that we could fly to Australia together. Having him around in the very final weeks was a vital and very welcome support.

It was not only my partner, who was around for me; my parents showed an incredible sense of integrity and helped me on multiple occasions. For example with the printed theses delivery, which is a story on itself:

Having done two print trials during Christmas, I was sure the thesis will come out perfect. Because I had it printed in the Czech Republic, my dad brought me all the books by the beginning of February (he drove from Pilsen to Maastricht, which is a solid 8-hour drive). He agreed that, on the way back to Czech, he would load some of my unsold belongings and take them back to Pilsen for storage. So far the plan. But you know the saying: "If you want to make gods laugh, make plans." And the gods sure laughed.

To my greatest disappointment, things in the printing house did go wrong after all: the offset printer producing a massive mess in one of my figures. I was devastated: I had put so much effort in the thesis-book, yet I looked like I could not care less about checking the print up. For the control freak in me, that was kind of a disaster. "Once you let go of control, things turn out wrong", was what I thought I had just learned from that lesson. The true lesson, however, was: "Even when things turn upside down, there is always a solution."

An hour later, after the initial shock faded away, I knew there is time for reason to overtake the whole situation and look for a solution that fitted time and our energy reserves. Reprint the whole lot of 150 copies and let my parents bring them just a few days before the defence? Reprint pronto only a few copies for the committee and uni secretariat and send my dad back to Prague to bring them back? Eventually we found a solution in printing out the bespoken figure on a separate piece of paper and gluing it to the back of the books as a standard erratum. My mum was backing up the whole situation from Pilsen, fiercely communicating with the printing house. And that is how I spent a hilarious St. Valentine’s evening with my partner and my dad in a wee errata-gluing manufacture. I have yet to see another Dutch thesis with an erratum in it.

In light of the busted print, the rest of mishaps was actually much easier to handle. Indeed, negotiating with crowds who wanted to buy my for-sale furniture and behaved as if they are doing me a favour, locking ourselves out and getting my wisdom tooth extracted eight days before the defence was mentally demanding but manageable. I was no longer surprised when I was the only one out of five students, whose power point presentation did not work without problems on a trial day, one week to go to the defence.

To my karma’s credit, however, despite minor things not working out or delaying me, I actually was progressing and getting everything done on time. I prepared my presentation in between packing boxes and dismantling wardrobes. With furniture sold and stuff stored or given away, we had to move out of my apartment one week prior to the thesis defence. We rented a cosy place in the centre of Maastricht through airbnb for that last week in the Dutch culinary capital. That was the place from where, within the last few days, I could finally focused my mind towards the defence itself...

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Avatar Kaja
August 31, 2016, 11:28 (No. 143)Kaja

Mila Hani, co si pamatuju, tak prednasky byly v ve dvou celodennich blocich i v ostatnich rocnicich. Zda se rozvrhy zmenily bohuzel nevim. Byvavaly dostupne na faf.cuni.cz ale ted jsou pristupne pouze studentum.

Avatar Hani
July 12, 2016, 16:21 (No. 142)Hani

Mam trochu OT otazku, ohledne rozvrhu, v prvaku jsi psala ze jsou 2 dny v tydnu jen prednasky. Je tomu tak i v ostatnich rocnicich? Diky

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