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  • Carolin Ischen, Caroline van Straten

The last mile is the longest one (and in hindsight the most fun)

Three, four, five years seems like a lot of time, but before you know it, your PhD trajectory will come to an end! This is both exciting and intimidating. To guide you through this last phase, we, that is Carolin Ischen and Caroline van Straten, will share some crucial advice in this blogpost.

Finishing the dissertation

Carolin Ischen: “All your empirical chapters are written and now the only thing that’s left for you to write is your general introduction and conclusion (and the acknowledgments of course). But how to bring it all together? Here are three things I learned during the last months before submitting my manuscript:

1. Get some inspiration! Read the introduction and conclusion of dissertations of your PhD colleagues, and especially of your supervisors.

We are very used to our supervisors reading our work, but now it is time for you to read their work to get inspired. Importantly, don’t feel discouraged comparing your first draft with their final version. You will get there eventually!

2. Find your own narrative. Take some time to re-read your chapters and focus on the bigger picture. Don’t forget: In this phase you are writing the most personal piece of your dissertation. As daunting as this might feel, this is a great time to reflect on your journey. Now more than ever you can tell the world what you’ve done and achieved in the last years. Which is a lot!

3. Use less productive hours to prepare your manuscript. We can’t be productive all the time, so use the minutes when you would normally turn to Youtube, Whatsapp or annoy your colleagues, to format and check all the nitty gritty details of your dissertation. Additionally , now is also the moment to get creative: Do you still want to change something in the title? How do you want the cover of your book to look like? Remember: soon enough you will hold the printed version in your hands.”


Caroline van Straten: “Once you’ve finished the writing part, celebrate this achievement big and repeatedly (cake, champaign, offices dances). Now, the only thing that’s left is the defense! Everybody will tell you not to worry about it. After all, you know your dissertation better than anyone, you’re an expert in your field, and the defense is a celebratory event to look forward to!

Trust me, I personally also didn’t believe this until I had first-hand evidence. As soon as my defense started, I honestly greatly enjoyed it!

And the good news is: Anticipatory fear can be minimized with preparation. Here are three tips on how to get ready, stay sane, and most importantly to enjoy the day:

1. Organize a mock defense (and maybe even two). Ask each mock opponent (colleagues) to read one chapter, think of a daunting question, and pose it as intimidatingly as possible. Make it as realistic as it can be: Read the formulas, let someone play the Beadle. This perhaps sounds silly but it will make your mock defense feel more like the theatrical ceremony that it is in the end, and less like the daunting moment of truth you imagine it to be upfront.

2. Ask your supervisors what questions they anticipate. They know your dissertation almost as well as you do but haven’t drowned in its details. As such, they can help you see the bigger picture that opponents will probably want to hear about as well.

3. Don’t spare your paranymphs (nervous

breakdowns are what they’re there for!). Listen to their advice regarding therapeutic shopping, destress massages, and the like.”

We hope this advice will make the final months of your PhD more fun. You’ve got this, go and enjoy finishing up and defending your dissertation!


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