How my real thesis was kidnapped by trolls

by Clémentine

A few weeks ago I submitted my PhD thesis:

even students take touristy pictures in Cambridge

So my boyfriend made me dinner to celebrate:

bulghur wheat in beetroot & mustard sauce, salmon & dill

and then what?

Well, then I had a rest and tried to expel from my memory the five hours of imploring the printer to work, the table of contents to refer to real pages as opposed to imaginary numbers, Barclays not to block my debit card even though I’d just spent £50 on printing, and the sky not to rain on my two babies as I took them to Ryman’s to get bound.

Then I had baby blues.

You see, a while ago all I had of the thesis was this:

This is an authentic screenshot from October 28th, 2011. Ok, of course I’d written stuff before then, but this was the first true ‘thesis’ document I’d created.

At the time, everything was possible, and I had all the time left in the world to do something great. 

But then the more you write, the more you solidify into words and phrases what used to be a great wonderful abstract nondescript potential thesis. While you’re writing all this, you know you’re not happy with it, but you think “Oh, that’s fine; that’s not the real thesis yet; the real thesis will emerge from this mess when I write Draft 2.”

Then Draft 1 comes back from Prof N. with suggestions, and Draft 2 starts being written. There are some nice little new things, but “of course it’s not the real thesis quite yet; the real thesis will be born when Draft 3 gets finished.”

Draft 2 comes back from Prof N. with some more smaller suggestions, and Draft 3 begins. Well, ok, some things change, but overall it’s still looking a lot like Draft 2, which in itself still has a little family resemblance with Draft 1. You start thinking, “Well, this doesn’t look like the real thesis yet, but maybe there’s a moment during editing and proofreading when the real thesis emerges from this frog-like thing.”

But it doesn’t.

And suddenly there’s this terrible moment of realisation that all the little tweaks to the bibliography and all the rephrasing and the word-culling get you closer and closer to submission but further and further away from the damn real thesis and instead you have this awful fake thesis help help HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Then it dawns on you that wait a minute, it’s exactly like those troll-kids that are put in cots instead of real babies in Scandinavian folklore!


But you don’t have time to go on an adventure to get your disgusting changeling swapped back for your real baby, all the time in the world has passed already and you have to swaddle and submit this terrible fake thesis which isn’t yours at all!

You think of leaving a little note for the Examiners on the front page of the thesis:


Dear Examiner,

Due to trolls having swapped my real, beautiful thesis for a fake, smelly one, I can only offer the latter for your perusal. It is self-evident, I hope, that I share your disgust for the asymmetrical monster and that I am terribly sorry to be imposing the burden of babysitting it in my absence.

Rest assured that we shall discuss the real one in the viva.

Sincerely, etc.

But in the end you just submit and collapse with tiredness and then do all the things you’d been postponing until submission (almost-being-done-with-your-PhD is a bit like having a grave illness; you tell people “Do you mind if I do that in a few weeks’ time? It’s just that, you see *cough* I’m about to submit my Phd” “OH MY GOODNESS of course, of course, I’m terribly sorry even for thinking of bothering you at this terrible time”). And then baby blues.

Where is my real baby thesis? The one that was so cute and beautiful and world-changing until I started writing it? The one that was so full of hope and promise until words got in the way? 

Don’t worry, it’s been a few weeks now. I’m starting to get used to the idea.

(I might as well, since it’s basically the conclusion of my whole thesis, as Prof N. will doubtlessly have spotted.)


  1. A brave post. Especially as it is in advance of your viva voce.

    A fine mind is never satisfied. Nor should it so (at least, in western philosophical terms).

    Perhaps the trolls have lifted your baby. Or, perhaps you are still gestating the real child. Only you can tell if it is still to be born.

    Einstein did not uncover a single unifying theory of physics but he advanced the cause towards it, nevertheless.

    Good luck with the viva.


  2. When your thesis-swaddled-baby cries her first “Mama”, you will know that after all she is yours, and you and all the gathered motely family members (ahem…examiners) will love her too.


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