However, for the purposes of this blog post I am going to say that I am currently in the fourth week of a 36-week completion plan, meaning (this week included) I have 33 weeks left until I hand in my PhD thesis. Theoretically.
Like many English high school students of my generation, I studied John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (extensively...) at some point early in high school, and I've always enjoyed the full, Burn's quote, in original Scots, to which his title alludes:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley, / An lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, / For promis'd joy!
However, it seems to me that the calendar represents something more than the hopeful timings it lays out. I think a lot of PhD researchers find - and this has certainly been my experience - that there is a moment when you go from the stage of 'doing the PhD' to that of 'finishing the PhD'. The completion stage can be a long one, but it is emotionally distinctive nonetheless. It is very different from the (wonderful!) early days of the doctorate, when you feel the days stretching ahead of you and you take the time (and you do have that time) to follow avenues of research down cul-de-sacs and dead ends and don't mind because you've learnt something new, which might shape your thinking even if it isn't cited in the final thesis. You explore. That's the first stage.
I'm not sure if this is too programmatic, but I think there's a second stage, too, which isn't so unlike exploration, but you have a slightly better sense of what the bounds of your subject are, of what you want to achieve: lets call that the mapping stage. You have enough background to be able to put each new thing you read into its place, at least approximately, on the map of your thesis.
The last stage is when you use that map to go on a journey from point A to point B: to either write the thesis, or to sculpt what you have written along the way into a coherent narrative. You take the map of new and exciting knowledge you've drawn and you get a bright red pen and you draw a route through it, a route that ideally takes in the most important discoveries you've made but perhaps has to pass by some fascinating corners of the landscape you mapped earlier.
Obviously the actually activities at each stage aren't quite so programmatic - I am still taking the occasional afternoon to wander down a cul-de-sac, just in case there might be something important there - but those three stages certainly represent for me the feeling of progressing through a doctorate. And it also captures the feeling that prompted me to decide that I should 'start finishing'. It felt like setting out on a journey: you've packed your bag, you've got your plane tickets, you're ready to go. You could unpack and repack your bag again, maybe decide that you could do with an extra t-shirt, but really, you're ready to go. If you've forgotten anything, then it doesn't actually matter, as long as you have your passport and your wallet. The thesis is the same. You could take forever gathering the kit that you need for your completion journey, but, really - sooner or later you have to grab the passport of the research you've already done, along with the wallet of all the skills that got you this far, and set out.
I'll keep you all updated on the journey!