inspiration, stress management

Searching for the thesis light, during a solar eclipse…


A few months ago, a student emailed me this quote, that her supervisor sent her when she was having a really tough time in the last few months of her PhD^.

It really resonated.

Sometimes, especially towards the end of your thesis, the going gets really, really, tough. It is then, when you feel like walking away and throwing it all away that you need to dig deep. Do whatever you need to find some energy, some motivation and keep going – I often say to my students that it is now, when you are ready to walk away, that you KNOW that you are nearly finished.You just need to find the grit to finish and get over this last hurdle.

Remind yourself of the statistics: less than 2% of the population have a Phd^^. This means you are doing something pretty special and unique – which means that, yes, it will be very, very hard at times.

Across Australia, each year, approximately 8000 people graduate with  Research Doctorate graduates and 1500 with Research Masters. In 2013, in the educational field of Creative Arts, 341 people graduated with a PhD and 249 with a Masters*. I share these statistics to remind you: few people have done a PhD,it can be challenging and there is no magic secret to completing: you just have to hang on and keep going.

So – if this is you, if you are in a “thesis solar eclipse” –hold on.

Please don’t ignore the problem and take some action to get out.

Here are a few practical suggestions:

  • Email your supervisor – ask for a meeting and their help
  • Email the HDR team – there might be some courses or an editor we can put you in touch with, or tips regarding extensions and sick leave if needed.
  • Develop an action plan, starting with the smallest action – on low motivation days, format your references; write for 30 minutes every morning; aim to read and review 2 papers a day etc
  • Reward and bribe yourself – I do this frequently, with simple rewards like a pedicure, meal put or special event when a milestone is reached (e.g. method chapter written)
  • Set REAL deadlines – I am a great believer in the power of deadlines. I finished my PhD in 3 years and one month, sending it to the printers the day before we moved from NZ to Brisbane (in fact, a friend of mine physically submitted the thesis to the university for me & received my ‘completion chocolate’…. I might still be a little bitter about that)
  • Turn to a PhD/DCI/Masters friend for help -will they do a brainstorm session with you in a local cafe, you shout the coffee/wine/beer?
  • Turn to your friends and family – could they listen to your vent, read your work and edit it, or enforce a writing bootcamp, so that all you do is write for a few days?
  • Get involved with (or start) a “shut up and write” group  – see: local

What was your “solar eclipse” experience?

And how do you get out of the thesis “tunnel”….  please, share your stories and suggestions below.

Until next time,

Your friend and HDR mentor,



^I shared the words with others, who then created this graphic as a reminder that there is light. 

^^I have based this statistic on American numbers, as just could not find an Australian reference on percentage of population with a PhD- if anyone has a reference, please share it.  

*These statistics are sourced from a recent 2016 Australian Council of Learned Academies report on HDR training, see: 


3 thoughts on “Searching for the thesis light, during a solar eclipse…”

  1. Thank you for these wise words, Evonne. I’m just at the beginning of my PhD journey (just starting week 5) and already I have felt overwhelmed, especially with all the literature I’ve read to help me fine-tune my research question. I just keep reminding myself why I am doing this research and that keeps me going.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Evonne.

    I’ve only just started with my DCI, and this story already resonates. Last week I suffered burnout from a rather manic few weeks before. The migration from being a craftsman to becoming an academic is not an easy transition to make. I did not expect it to be easy, so I threw myself at every opportunity to attend workshops, lectures and whatever was on offer.

    I had the opportunity to have a good rest and to regroup over the past two days. I am beginning to find my rhythm, but I need to read a lot more so that my writing would be better informed. It is about learning new habits, a new language and a new culture. I know there will be many tough times ahead but QUT and the CIF are my home now, and I intend to stay.

    Thanks for the advice, many of us need all the help we can get. That having been said, this is the best experience of my life.

    Have a great day.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some days are just hard – no matter what! But I loved this quote, a good reminder to keep focussed and keep working, step by step, towards your goal


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