They think it’s all over…

Actually, it is. The PhD anyway.

I can only apologise to myself for not updating this blog for such a long time. My last post was a whole year ago. Last winter I was struggling through writing up a big paper on eclipsing CVs, and then as soon as that was finished, I was writing my thesis. Updating this blog has always been on my mind, but I’ve always found more important things to do. Let’s see if I can put together a short and coherent story for 2016…

OK, aside from the endless list of celebrity deaths (sad face), outrageous political turmoil (angry face), and hottest year (again) on record (depressed face), 2016 has been a big year for me.

I spent the first six months writing my thesis, getting wearier and wearier, and becoming an ever-more-depressing burden on my friends and girlfriend. I was writing a PhD thesis on a topic I wasn’t very enthusiastic about, on work I wasn’t particularly proud of, and I had a deeply uninspired outlook on life. I had a pretty awful time of it, but I survived, and I would say that actually it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Every doctor I knew told me that the write up was going to be hell, and so I was mentally prepared for torture. It was tortuous at times, but now it’s done I feel comfortable saying to others “You’ll be alright”.

thesis

My printed PhD thesis

I had to move out of my flat in early June, and worked out a lodging with some friends over the summer. I handed in my thesis at the end of June, just in time to go to work at Glastonbury festival, and have an awful time of that too (mud, rain and loneliness make festivals rather disagreeable). Nevertheless, it was done! I had finished it! To be honest, it was something of an anti-climax. Britain voted narrowly to leave the EU in the same week, and so my achievements suddenly felt unimportant.

The rest of the summer was a mix of existential crises, preparing for my viva voce, and, with a very heavy heart, parting ways with Emily, my girlfriend of two and a half years and someone without whom I’m certain I would never have finished the PhD. I took a few summery days off to go cycling, but instead of being a joyous time, it was rather a dark and directionless few months.

sousceyrac

Chris and I in the beautiful hilltop town of Sousceyrac

However, I have so far missed out two key events. Towards the end of August, my best friend Chris and I embarked on a 10-day cycling tour of France, from Dieppe to Carmaux, covering 850km in sweltering heat. Along the way we learned a lot about ourselves and our tolerance for French summer heat, French pastries, and the trustworthiness of Google Maps. We met with good friends Rosie and Dan in Sousceyrac, and ended at the beautiful farmhouse Os Figueiros for a week of wwoofing. This was by far the highlight of my summer, and I’ll happily recount the entertaining tales of our wild-camping endeavours to anyone who cares to ask.

osfig

At Os Figueiros, the end of our 10-day, 850km cycle tour.

The second key event begins the round up of my year and brings me to my current situation (and excuse for not writing anything all autumn). In August I applied for a job as a fixed-term lecturer (read: substitute teacher) in astrophysics here in Sheffield. One of the Professors had acquired sufficient funding to allow him to take a research sabbatical and pay for a 12-month lectureship to fill in his teaching. Although I took the application seriously, I had absolutely no expectation of success, and treated the whole thing as an exercise in gaining experience. You can imagine my disbelief and nerves when I discovered, on the day of my interview (which also included giving a 25-minute lecture on the Saha & Boltzmann equations), that the other candidates had dropped out and that I was the only interviewee. I got the call later that evening (which as it happened was the night before I left for France on my bike), offering me the job, along with the hefty salary, and a long list of the teaching duties I would take on.

If I could give one piece of advice to my former self, and to anyone else who happens to have just submitted their PhD thesis and been offered a lecturing position, I would say this: it may be the hardest thing you ever do in your entire life. There’s a good reason why people don’t tend to go straight from doing a PhD to teaching two and a half lecture courses, taking on two tutor groups, supervising a weekly lab session, and running a bunch of 3rd-year projects. It’s flippin’ tough. If I’d known how hard it would be, and how it would affect my mental health, there’s a good chance I would never have applied in the first place.

Anyway, this explains why I haven’t blogged all year. I’ve been drowning in stress, anxiety and vector calculus. I haven’t even started giving the lectures yet, so 2017 is going to be one hell of a ride.

My final PhD blog entry wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my viva, which took place in mid-September, just after I came back from France. Most people say their vivas are reasonably enjoyable, and they happen so fast you barely notice it. I’m not going to lie, mine was horrible. At no point did I feel relaxed or on the ball, and even at the end I still wasn’t confident I had passed. I started off getting easy questions wrong, and although I must have gotten a lot more right, I never felt good. Clearly, my perceptions have never been more wrong, because I passed with minor corrections. I was so relieved, I could’ve kissed the examiners. Afterwards I skipped along the corridor punching the air in a rare display of emotion. It was all worth it.

As well as working on teaching, I’ve also spent many hours this autumn finalising my thesis corrections, and re-writing the paper on eclipsing CVs, after it was essentially rejected in August (adding extra stress to my PhD viva, of course, since it formed an entire chapter of the thesis). I’m pleased to say that after major revisions the paper was accepted and will be published very soon. I can also happily announce that my thesis corrections were completed and accepted, and I’m expecting to receive the paperwork confirming completion of the PhD any day now.

What a year, huh? Ups and downs and lots of stress, but I can now finally call myself Dr. Hardy. It remains to be seen if it was worth it, but for now I’ll do all I can to flaunt my achievements and hold on to any pride I can muster. This will likely be my last entry to this PhD blog, but who knows? Perhaps in future I’ll write some more, about teaching, astronomy, cycling, politics, or whatever I end up doing with the rest of my life. For now I’ll say one huge and truly heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way. You know who you are.

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