Endurance running and PhD upgrades.

I have to make a small confession, which I often do on my blog. I didn’t know I would have to do an ‘upgrade’ during my PhD until I was about 3 or 4 months into my PhD. So for those who don’t know- when you register for a PhD you are registered as doing a Masters of Philosophy. Around the end of the first year (or if your part time like me a little later) you must submit an upgrade report on your work to date and then attend a viva where you present your project and are asked questions about it. If the academics doing your upgrade feel you have done enough and you are online to achieve a standard of work adequate for a PhD you are ‘upgraded’. Consequently you are registered as a proper PhD student! Fantastic!

In the lead up to my upgrade I did my research- picking the brains of students in the years above, looking over their ridiculously clever reports and asking them about the types of questions they were asked. I wrote my report with lots of advice from my primary supervisor- who is an amazingly supportive person providing lots of really useful advice and helping me to refine my writing style. I think it is with her advice I am slowly starting to learn to write like an academic…maybe.

Yet this entire process reminds me of my marathon preparation process. I sought advice from magazines and other people who I knew who had run marathons – I collected a few training schedules and swotted up on appropriate diets. I even felt a few weeks prior to my event that I might be doing ok- I CAN run a marathon, I know what I am doing. No blisters or bonking for me. (FYI bonking is a technical term when you ‘hit the wall’  or you feel like you can’t go on).

Now, I sit in a lovely office full of lovely PhD students and of the 5 students doing their upgrades in my year I was the last. Ordinarily I am quite calm and collected in advance of a marathon or big interview. However being ‘the last’ meant I experienced and observed all the panic and paranoia that they all went through, in fact I found it was infectious. My worry started ramping up far too early. My husband always dreads my (normally brief) pre-marathon panic. It tends to go something like:

Me: “oh no why did we enter this marathon?”

Husband: “you wanted to”

Me: “But it is not a good idea- we are never going to make it, we are doomed, its going to fail…”

Husband: “sigh”


My pre-upgrade panic was similar BUT started much earlier and went something like:

Me: “why did I ever choose to do this PhD?”

Husband: “but just the other day you were saying you loved it”

Me: “but I am going to fail my upgrade, then everyone will know I don’t know anything and I am NOT cut out to be a PhD student”

Husband: “sigh”


My post marathon/upgrade conversations often seem just as silly (NB: I PASSED MY UPGRADE THIS MORNING YAY):

Me: “I passed”

Husband: “I told you so, well done”

Me: “no, you never said that! I didn’t know you thought I could do it”

Husband: “sigh”

And we all smile and breathe a happy sigh of relief….

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