The Principles Underpinning a ‘Good Enough’ PhD Thesis


Bev is a part-time, self-funded, remote access PhD student at Newcastle University.  Her research interests include the criminalisation of competition law in the UK and its implications in the EU and professional sports league cartels.  She is the mum of The Dudes, the wife of a professional rugby player and the owner of chickens. You can read more of Bev’s blogs at and follow her on Twitter via @Bevlash


By the time I have handed in my PhD thesis, I will have worked on it for years.  I will have written at least twice as many words as those precious ones that make up the final document. I will have suffered innumerable bouts of self-doubt.  I will have endured days of thesis guilt, mum guilt, wife guilt, flipping gym guilt even! I will have been solely responsible for the death of many a tree.  And when it is all done, when it is all finally over, unless I subject myself to further edits and alterations, NOBODY WILL EVER READ IT.

I will have spent years of my life writing what is essentially, a book that nobody will ever even be given the opportunity to read.

Some people might find that depressing.  Not me, I find it flipping liberating.

Whenever I speak to academics about the process of writing a PhD thesis, all of them, almost without exception, say that when they look back at what they wrote, it is a cringe inducing experience.  They who now publish internationally recognised articles, they who write seminal texts in their fields of interest, they who also smirk when they talk about their theses.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the desire to make sure that your thesis is amazing, the term “original contribution” looming venomously over your head.  A well respected academic friend of mine said to me quite recently, after yet again enduring one of my biannual PhD induced panics, that what I have to remember is that it doesn’t need to change the world, it just needs to be good enough.  Good enough to get me through, good enough to make sure that I can take the next step.  That maybe I should see it as a hurdle to jump over and not something that will define me for the rest of my academic career.  And you know why? BECAUSE NOBODY WILL EVER READ IT.

Maybe when I’ve finished it, I’ll be so proud of it that I will have extra copies made and leave them on coffee tables in law schools around the country with a picture of my face plastered on the front cover.  Maybe it will be so good that it won’t require another years worth of work before it can be published into a book that people will actually pay for and read.  But maybe not.  Right now, I just want it to be good enough to get me that certificate that says I can move on.  Right now, I’m happy with the idea that no one will ever give two hoots about that bad boy apart from those poor buggers examining me on it.

So when I am having one of those days when I start to obsess about this paragraph or that sentence, I stop and give myself a shake.  Momentum is more important than perfection, completion is more important that perfection.  In fact, perfection is not even my standard any more, good enough is.


6 Responses

  1. A bit of wisdom I got from a senior student in my PhD program: “In my first year I learned that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be good. In my second year I learned that it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. In my third year I learned that it doesn’t have to be done, it just has to be started.”

  2. I struggled with accepting that I have to spend 3 years of my life to produce a good enough! Understanding that I have to finish helped me come to terms and realise that the goal is getting the PhD and I will have a lifetime of perfecting if I want to

  3. Thanks Bev for a great uplifting post! I passed my viva in July and have to get back into my thesis to do the corrections & I’m cringing already, only one month on:D

    Although I think there is definitely more chance of people reading your thesis nowadays with online repositories and web profiles to fill up with interesting stuff about ourselves. I’m also planning on turning my thesis into a 4 page briefing note to send it to interested parties who don’t have the time or the desire to read a mammoth doc!

  4. Wonderful post! Thanks so much for that… I am also a remote location part time student and a recent mum! I could not have ever finished my thesis, had I not been told that “good enough” was my goal, rather than “close to perfect”!

  5. […] [originally seen on socphd] […]

  6. Reblogged this on My PhD Research Journey.

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