As the student gets towards the end stages of creating the dissertation, it might seem odd to return to the issues of timing and deadlines, but there has never been a more crucial period to study the demands of time. Many students go right to the wire with the time taken to produce a completed thesis for submission, indeed a great number of students go beyond their deadlines and end up trying to juggle the completion of their research with the demands of a new job. That can be a very difficult situation and is to be avoided if at all possible. In some cases the deadlines will be self-determined, so there may be no harm done if they slip a little. In many situations, however, there is a formal limit to the student’s registration, so missing this deadline could prove disastrous. Normally, the students and the main supervisor need to indicate to the Graduate School of the university about three months in advance, that the student is preparing to submit the dissertation manuscript on a certain date. This is to enable the university to set the wheels in motion to select internal and external examiners, to check their suitability, and to arrange the administrative details for the viva event. Up until this point, most work “deadlines” were convenient milestones which were self-imposed to provide guidance and structure. The final submission date is a real deadline, and needs to be treated seriously. It makes sense to work back from this agreed date-of-submission, and plan the last few months of the PhD research like a military campaign.
Firstly, although getting the dissertation printed and loosely-bound should only take a few hours, do not leave it to the last minute, because if anything unexpectedly goes wrong (e.g. the printer breaks) then the carefully choreographed timetable is shattered. Similarly, do not underestimate how long it will really take to get the exact wording for the final analytical chapter and conclusions, or the inevitable few weeks that will need to be spent ‘snagging’ the final text. Apart from a final double-check on spelling and grammar, the captions of any illustrations will need to be cross-checked, as well as making sure that the page numbering corresponds to the contents pages and that every reference cited in the text has been itemised correctly in the reference list at the end. Insufficient attention to the details of spelling and referencing is often what makes the difference between a clear pass and “minor revisions required”. All this will take more time than an optimistic student expects! It is critical that some ‘redundancy time’ is built-in to any work plan in order to provide some slack for the likelihood of delays, deliberations, and minor disasters. The student will have spent so long in direct contact with the text that sometimes even the most obvious errors and omissions are not picked up until the very last moment. Five or six months before the anticipated submission date, sit down the supervisory team and set a schedule of ‘soft’ (desirable) and ‘hard’ (i.e. not moveable) deadlines to punctuate a work-plan leading to the final submission of the manuscript. Be realistic, then stick to the plan and do not get side-tracked with interesting but fruitless tangents which distract from the goals.