Celebrating all the little things

A PhD is a strange beast. It is a huge amount of work, over a long period of time, and completing this is something to be celebrated. The question is when to celebrate; when you submit, when you pass your viva, when corrections are accepted, at graduation, when all papers are published? Celebrating one of these can feel like an anti-climax because they are either not the endpoint, or rather disconnected and distant from the work. One option is to not really celebrate much, but that is simply unacceptable! Therefore, the only sensible option is to celebrate every one of these, and all the smaller achievements along the way. Below are some of the milestones that I have celebrated so far in my PhD, and I hope they give you an idea of how much celebrating we should all be doing along this PhD journey. This is not an exhaustive list, and will obviously vary from person to person, but some of these will be universal.

Starting the PhD – Getting to the point of starting a PhD is an achievement in itself. Depending on your route, you may have had to go through an intense funding application or interview process. Regardless of your route, you will have had to be accepted by the institution and supervisors.

Applying for study approvals – In the UK, if you are doing any research within the NHS you need HRA approval. Anyone who has any experience of this will tell you that it’s a bit of a nightmare. Therefore, getting to the point where you have submitted the application is certainly cause for celebration.

Receiving study approvals/Starting participant recruitment – Being granted HRA approvals (along with any others you need) is a sign of having run the gauntlet and coming out the other side victorious. It’s worthy of celebration in its own right, but also triggers another two milestones – participant recruitment and data collection. That’s another two reasons to celebrate, lovely stuff.

Participant recruitment and data collection milestones – I’ve combined these here, but depending on your study design, you may have several celebrations here. For me, achieving my recruitment targets was one, and then as data collection was longitudinal, end of data collection was another. Also, you may have several studies which will each require a celebration.

Passing confirmation/transfer – The exact name and process for this will vary between institutions, but at some point (usually at the end of year 1) you will be examined on your progress. Passing this is a big achievement and can be a wonderful confidence boost.

Paper submissions (and re-submissions) – Many people are now able to include papers in their thesis, meaning that publishing during a PhD is much more common. This process is hard but well worth it and submitting a paper is definitely celebration worthy. So far, I have submitted two papers, one of which was rejected and so I have submitted it elsewhere. I have therefore had 3 paper submission celebrations. I will obviously have a bigger celebration when they each get published. Remember that everyone has papers rejected and that this is not a failure, however, each submission is a success!

I hope that there are many more things to celebrate throughout my final year, including more paper submissions, papers accepted and published, putting together a full thesis draft, submission of the thesis etc. I will be sure to celebrate each and every achievement, big and small, along this PhD path, for without each step I wouldn’t be able to complete the journey.