The last week of Hilary term. While for most it brings excitement about the upcoming vacation and the chance to catch up on much-needed sleep, for finalists it carries additional, less cheerful, implications. Firstly, the existential dread of being left to revise independently over the holidays in preparation for the final exams in Trinity term. Secondly, and more urgently, the dreaded dissertation deadline.
The process of planning the dissertation starts almost 12 months before the long-awaited hand-in, in the summer term of second year. And then all of a sudden it’s the middle of Hilary term of third year and you realise you need to actually write the thing. For me and my friends, as the deadline drew closer I noticed those around me becoming increasingly more hysterical. Unsurprisingly, there was also a correlated increase in tea (and cake) breaks.
Once it got to a few days before the deadline (12pm on the last Friday of Hilary term), or the night before for some, and the content was finished, we had to then deal with the anxiety of ensuring that all the formatting was right. The examiners seem to insist on quite specific guidelines about everything and anything. Line spacing, referencing, cover pages, footnotes – all have to be done in a specific way. And so we found ourselves awake in the middle of the night asking important questions like: Is there 5 pt spacing in between all of my references? Have I correctly defined my abbreviations?
When deadline day finally arrived, it was a relief to print it off and seal it away in an envelope. Then the only thing left to do was to get to the Examination Schools to hand it in. Of course, this involved the obligatory ‘handing in my dissertation’ photo on the steps of the building, where everyone tries to look happy but comes off looking rather manic and exhausted.
It was a very strange and tense atmosphere in the exam schools, stood around the work preparation table while we filled in the declaration forms, and addressed our envelopes. I actually required three envelopes in the end as I managed to address mine to the wrong examination board twice. As I handed it over, I felt a very complex mixture of emotions. Relief that it was finally out of my hands, and a deep-rooted fear, that I’m sure my fellow students can relate to, that I had managed to do something catastrophically wrong which would absolutely guarantee I would fail.
But despite the anxiety and lack of sleep, we all walked out of there with a proportion of our degree completed. Now all we have to do is sit our finals exams…