What to expect when expecting…to finish your PhD in less than a year

As I am writing this post I am officially less than a year away from finishing my PhD, including my defense. I am happy and at the same time nervous. Every day that passes is one day less to finish an experiment or for my committee to correct my thesis. Mostly I keep wondering if I am ready to go into the “real” world.

I’m better off than my best friend if I’m being 100% honest. A couple of months ago she learned that she is expected to do her first thesis submission by the end of October while at the same time, finish the corrections of her first article, leave a draft for the second ready and train the person who will continue her project…and we are already in the middle of September.

Again, she is happy to be so close to the final line, but at the same time she is overwhelmed. As days passes we see each other less and less even though we work at the same institute and incidentally we are spending more and more time at the lab…we are just not going out of the lab.

And so, here is a couple of things I’ve noticed both from us and other friends who have arrived to the final stretch, that seem to be constants in this last part of our PhD:

Socializing gets overrated but still you will crave it more

Because I spend longer hours at the lab and more often than not I am spending my lunch break (it’s no longer an hour mind you) in front of the PC, writing, I’ve come to notice that I want to see my friends and family more. I try to organize my weekends to spend at least a bit of time with them…but when we finally meet I get tired very quickly and want to get to bed as soon as possible. It’s not them, it’s 100% me, I am just exhausted most of the time.

Energy? What energy?

While at the lab, running from room to room, making sure I don’t mix up experiments; my energy levels are adequate. Sometimes I even forget that I haven’t had time to eat or that I’ve been on my feet for 8 hours straight. But the moment I stop that’s the moment I noticed I have no energy left whatsoever. In the past week I’ve fallen asleep 3 times on the couch at around 9 pm. Sure, the last time coincide with the fact that I got a nasty cold, but hey, still.

Comfy is the new black

A few years ago, I told myself that yoga pants are only acceptable when working out. For the most part this has remained true. But as I have to spend most of my weekends in the lab, I’ve become more relaxed about what I am wearing. I am not coming to the lab in pajamas because there is a limit people. But if I’m going to have to be at the lab a whole Saturday, I might as well get comfortable, which takes me to:

Lab naps are totally a thing

In the 6 years I’ve been in this lab (2 of Masters and 4 so far in PhD) I had never slept here. My back hurts easily, so sleeping on my desk was not something I consider as a good idea. However, during my lab weekends, I’ve come to notice I doze off without even noticing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The closer you are to finishing the less motivated you feel

This is happening gradually to me but it is very blatant on my best friend. You are doing an experiment and you get this feeling that it doesn’t matter whatever the outcome is. You are still going to do it, you want to be done with it, but you have to push yourself to go and measure those proteins and start that western blot…be right back.

If you hated lab meetings/seminars before…

Even though your motivation to do an experiment seems to fly away, every time you are forced to be out of the lab to see a presentation your brain cannot be present. I’ve spent countless hours looking at power points presentations and all along thinking about all the experiments I could/should be doing.

Experiment nightmares

Just when you think you can finally get some rest and you go to sleep…you dream about that experiment that won’t work. In the past month I’ve had dreams about my PI asking for impossible experiments; I’ve been in the lab and for some reason my cat is with me and I have to finish my experiment on time or something horrible will happen to the poor thing; I dream that I come to the lab only to find all my solutions have disappeared. Guys, I might be going crazy.

Finding a job seems impossible

I’m not there yet, but this is probably one of the worst constants I’ve seen my friends go through and this is independent of your field. For years you’ve been a student, and now that you are trying to go out there it feels like the odds are against you. Sending CVs and getting no answer suddenly makes your nasty reviewers responses look like a great thing, because hey! At least they answered! Getting an interview becomes more nerve wrecking than your first oral presentation and you realized that maybe getting a more relaxed look at the lab clashes with trying to convince the recruiter that you are indeed, job material.

So yeah, as I get closer to finishing the stress has gotten bigger and bigger and seems to be coming from all directions. But you know what? Getting so close to the end also means that a lot of my day dreaming of starting a new step in my life is turning into a reality and that, more than stressful, is exciting.

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