I’ve had a workable draft of my PhD thesis finished since this past summer. All the basic ideas were in place. I had to cut down some words, clean up some errors, and make some of the language more consistent. But the essence of the argument was in place.
I found the process of formulating the argument to be an exciting, fun experience. I was grappling with new ideas, thinking things through to their logical conclusion, and trying to draw connections between ideas. That’s the fun part of working on original research.
The less fun part comes at the final stages of the PhD. Since this summer, I have worked through my thesis over and over and over. That’s probably not enough ‘overs’. Each time I’m making things a little more precise, trying to remove every element that reflects fuzzy thinking. Then I take what I have to my supervisor, and he points out a few more places where I can make things just a little bit better.
Realistically, all of these revisions are the difference between low def and hi def, DVD vs BLURAY. The story is going to be the same, but hopefully everything is just a little more clear. At least that’s what I hope. Sometimes it feels like I have been buried in this work for so long that it has become impossible to tell how it would come across to someone picking it up for the first time.
I’m incredibly grateful for Dr Gathercole’s dedication and attentiveness to my work, and all of his feedback is definitely helping me take my work to a new level. It’s sort of like working with a personal trainer. He’s pushing me to a level of critical writing that I probably would not push myself.
At the same time, this work is not especially exhilarating. It’s the grueling process of figuring out how to state each and every little idea in the clearest way possible. For the first time in the course of my PhD, I just want this book to be over and done with. I have other things I’d like to think about; there are new ideas I’d like to explore and develop.
When is a book ever really done? You could work on revisions forever. At some point, though, the revisions have to stop.
I think that the end of the PhD process is about refining your critical thinking and writing, on the one hand, and learning to make peace with the provisional nature of all human reflection, on the other. I know that in 5 years there will be things about this thesis that I would definitely state differently. Still, I’m going to be happy with what I produce whenever I submit this thesis in April, and it will stand as a record of this stage in my growth as a writer and theologian. That has its own value, and I’ll leave it to someone else to carry on the discussion after me.