It has taken me a while, and I still feel a bit on the slow end of the productivity scale, but I'm feeling like I'm making progress! My database is all set up and is gradually being filled up with information, the first steps at making use of GIS have been taken, and practically all the housekeeping has been taken care of. What these things effectively mean is that data analysis, and hence the reaping of the rewards of my "gruelling" field season, is about to begin, my disabling inability to ask for help is being tackled, and, most importantly, I now work in an office with people, natural light, and easy access to tea and coffee, and toilets.
As it is the last few weeks of the academic year, the university is very quiet. There are no Undergrads or Masters students, many staff are still on leave, and a large proportion of PhD students are either away working in the field or are taking a well-deserved break. But my thoughts are on those PhDs who are writing up and preparing to submit their theses in about a month's time. For most of them it's a very stressful time. I say most of them, because one guy is just too chilled out about it , it's not normal - apparently he's only got the introduction and conclusion to write... I can see myself behaving in the exact opposite way when my turn comes in three years' time.
One interesting thing I've found out is that quite a number of people get a job in their final PhD year. This seems to be the case with the person whose desk I inherited, and one of the girls in my office (they are both due to hand in next month). Occasionally, this happens because a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity appears. This happened to one of my supervisor's old students: she gave up the PhD in favour of a position in her country's government. In Cyprus, government scientific positions often only open up when someone retires, in this limiting one-out-one-in system, so I understand that this person took a now-or-never approach to it. However, the more general picture is that of people needing the money.
The government Research Councils here in the UK fund large numbers of PhD students. They pay their university fees and also give them a stipend, or living allowance. The problem is that the funding lasts for only three years, and the thesis must be submitted within four years. It seems that most PhDs are finished in four years, rather than three, particularly in disciplines like mine that require periods of time to be spent collecting data in the field, so a PhD student will be faced with living on no income for that final year. Plus, the submission deadline is incredibly strict. The university gets penalised when students don't finish in four years: the funding they receive for research is reduced.
Fortunately, some positive changes are being made by some Research Councils, especially where fieldwork is involved in PhDs. So there is some recognition of how work in the field most often means longer duration of study.
Of course, all this doesn't actually affect me in any way, since I am not funded by a Research Council. Also, as a colleague pointed out, worrying about this sort of thing is pointless at this stage. What's important now is to just get on with it and work as best we can. Many people have completed their PhDs within the deadlines, so it is possible.
I just can't wait to finish.