PhD Fraud #15: The PhD Pre-Flight Checklist


Through the course of the last 6-12 months of writing-up, my impending collision course towards Thesis Zero has highlighted a number of key things that every grad student should keep in mind before officially handing in your work for appraisal, and which has led to generation of the official PhD Fraud Submission Checklist.

The list aims to run through those things that one might forget in the heat of the moment or in the mad rush between finishing your final sentence and celebrating with copious amounts of alcohol. The PhDFPSC, therefore, is here to help guide you through the finalising and formatting process, in case the dizziness of finally getting to the end is too much and you lose all focus on space and time. It’s primarily a list for my own use, but hopefully it’s relevant for everyone who’s in the final throes of putting together their own weighty tomes, and wants to make sure they don’t forget anything crucial.


The PhD Fraud Pre-Submission Checklist

  • Check the submission guidelines of your institution. For reference, mine can be found [here]. You don’t want to get it wrong; in the worst case, you might have to completely re-submit everything again. If you’re going to spend time formatting and tidying up your completed thesis, you may as well get it right first time, yeah?
  • Check all spelling and grammar and everything in the document. If possible, get someone else to read it (or at least scan an eye over it) since Microsoft spellchecker is about as trustworthy as a van parked outside a school with a hand-painted sign saying “Free Candy”.
  • Make sure that you haven’t accidentally left in all those footnotes and comments bad-mouthing your supervisor/examiner, calling him “a fop-haired imbecile”.
  • Check that all figures, tables, equations, etc. are numbered correctly and referenced properly in the text and in the contents pages. The last thing that an examiner wants to do is to be flicking backward and forward through 100+ pages and not being able to find that diagram of Honey Badger mating rituals that you’re referring to in the text.

    A conservative estimate of a thesis examiner's fury.

    A conservative estimate of a thesis examiner’s fury.

  • Also, make sure that your references section or bibliography is up-to-date and contains all the relevant information. If possible, make sure you referenced journal/conference articles that your examiner has written, such that he gets a warm fuzzy glow of being important and powerful.
  • Further to the above, if you have referenced your thesis examiner, then do make sure you’ve spelt his/her name right and their co-authors: believe me, they’ll notice. Also, try not to reference their work in the context of criticising it or saying that it is “total bullshit”; things like that will tend to get you a bad rep, and are unlikely to contribute to a super-happy-fun time in your viva voce.
  • Check that you haven’t accidentally ‘lost’ a whole chapter, or accidentally pressed ‘CTRL+A’, ‘DEL’ by accident and wiped your enter thesis. It’s easier done that you’d think (as I can attest from experience).
  • Did I already mention that you should back up your files and documents properly? You should back up your files and documents properly. For something as important as The Thesis, I tend to at least carry two hard copies and three soft copies on my person at all time. Paranoid? Me?
  • Make sure all your fonts and formatting is nice and consistent. If you have used anything except Times New Roman, Garamond, Calibri or something like that, change it.
  • Be subtle about plagiarising: at least re-phrase some of the stuff you’ve inevitably copy-pasted from someone else’s work; or if you can think of a way of writing it that’s completely different (but essentially the same), all the better.
  • Have you sorted out a Table of Contents, and listing of all the Figures, Tables, etc. you’ve used? Make sure they’re nicely up-to-date and don’t refer to a previous draft or point to the wrong page numbers.
  • While we’re at it, how’s your Bibliography looking? It’s not the quantity of references that matters, it’s the quality: an examiner will likely notice if you’ve tried to artificially pad out your Bibliography with things you haven’t read. On the flip side, if you’d like to have fun with your examiner, include a completely made-up reference, just to check whether he/she is properly paying attention:

    Brown, E. L., & McFly, M. S. (1985). Unsteady State Analysis of Flux Capacitor Self-Excited Time Manipulation. Journal of Time Travel, (9), 992–1000.

  • Make sure you make all your graphs, figures and tables look really nice. Also: make sure that they’re decent resolution with a good DPI so that they look good even when they’re zoomed-in on a PDF. Go mad, use Adobe CS6 if you need to, but just take some care in how you’re presenting your results; if you can make it look visually appealing and interesting as well as merely presented the data, then it helps the examiner to read your work and engage with it.
  • Do you need to submit programming code as an appendix or on a data CD? You’d best go through your code with a fine tooth-comb, removing all those comments like “// THIS SECTION OF CODE DOESN’T WORK”, “%FUCKING MATLAB”, etc.
  • Fill out your ‘Acknowledgements’ page properly; don’t skimp on the thanks for those who deserve it. This may be your only opportunity to do anything like an hour-long Oscar winner’s speech, so feel free to thank all the names under the Sun. Heck, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back as well; you certainly deserve it.
  • Best take out that experimental slashfic chapter you wrote about your supervisor/Voldemort in a coffee-fuelled all-nighter haze way back in second year.
  • Have you actually finished everything? There’s nothing important you’ve forgotten, is there? Just spend a few days thinking about it before you print and soft-bind it; you never know, you might finally remember that crucial figure you meant to put in but never got ‘round to that is totally the whole basis of your argument.
  • Remember to actually submit the damned thing – in the joyous celebration and raucous parting upon finishing 3-4 years of work, it’s probably a good idea to not forget to hand it in.
  • FINAL STEP: Party. Then have a massive panic attack because you just remembered that other key thing you forgot to put in and your thesis is already winging its way to your examiners. Oh well, never mind; there’s always time during “minor/major/entire corrections” (delete as applicable) to fix anything.



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One thought on “PhD Fraud #15: The PhD Pre-Flight Checklist

  1. Haha, ‘Fucking MATLAB’, I guess I should check I haven’t called any of my variables ‘cock’ or ‘FFS’

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