Monday, 16 July 2012

The Quagmire of the PhD

When I started this blog, I wrote that it was a tool for me to be reflective about my journey through my PhD, but also to offer an 'insider's guide', if you will, to all aspects of being a PhD student.  I regret to say that today's post highlights some of the more turbulent experiences of - what I hope is - a typical PhD student nearing the end of their first year.

As I'm sure most PhD students experienced, I began my PhD with bountiful enthusiasm.  I could cope with hours upon hours of reading because I was interested.  I wrote lots of notes, I colour coded lots of things, I organised my office and labelled folders and collected journal articles like they were going out of fashion.  I approached potential studies like an over-excited puppy, reading everything, writing ethics forms, and all the while thinking how great it was to be learning.

I miss old me.

New me hates everything.  I should add a little caveat here, in that I still wouldn't want to be doing anything else.  But that doesn't mean I don't hate it.  I hate the never-ending "How's the PhD going?", or "Have you finished your literature review yet?".  Worse still are the "You really need to get working on that you know", the "You better not be thinking of quitting" or the "Why aren't you published yet?"

The rational part of me knows people not asking these questions or making these statements from a negative standpoint.  They are are asking (a) because they care or (b) because they think it is a safe topic, much like "How is work?", except it's not like that at all.

Every day, I struggle to get in front of the computer.  If I do, I invariably stare for hours at a blank document or reread what I've already written without making any new progress.  I despise the topic, the literature and my own poor writing.  Avoidance, although temporarily relieving, perpetuates the guilt cycle.  

I don't work - I feel guilty - I try to work - I fail miserably - I hate everything - I don't work.  I think we can agree, it's not the most productive of cycles.

Funnily enough, I was warned by everyone who had been doing their PhD for more than 12 months to expect this.  All have good advice - advice I've returned on the odd occasion - and while I know how good it is, I just can't seem to follow it.  I took a few days away from it all, in the hopes I'd break the cycle, but as we're currently refitting our kitchen in our tiny one-bedroom flat, it wasn't really days off to relax.  It was days off to work 8-16 hours on a kitchen I am also rapidly growing to hate.  (That's a rant for a whole other day though).  I came into the office today to get out of that environment, but here I sit writing this post, rather than my literature review, the deadline for which is approaching at break-neck, terrifying speed.

I imagine this is what it must feel like for the proverbial deer in the headlights.  I see my deadline racing towards me, flashing warning signs all through my diary and calender that the end is near, but I am paralysed by fear and inability to do anything so it sits, with 4250 words completed (many of which will need rewritten) and I am writing blog posts.

Those of you who have been here I'm sure can commiserate.  For those of you who haven't yet, I hope I am not diluting your enthusiasm.  But these are the realities of the PhD, I suppose.  I hope that soon I might be able to write about overcoming this, but for now, I am all Bambi-like and unable to write anything related to my topic.  Or even talk about it.  

Just don't ask me how my PhD's going.

1 comment:

  1. u start out all excited because the wonders of research is pretty amaaazing.

    half way thru, u kinda turned into a librarian ie classifying articles etc like most of us did, which is not entirely wrong but could be rather prosaic for a researcher.

    now, how can we fix this?

    rekindle your imagination, your passion!

    start with an example, a colorful illustration and then back it up with the theories and what not.

    u gotta have fun with it katy.
    try to take the mind set of formality out of the equation.
    imagine telling a story to a kid about how a magician would tantalize him.

    for example?
    it was my 8th birthday party. my dad got a magician to drop by. at first i was like "pft, owh i've seen it all before.."

    then suddenly he flipped his hand through thin air and a rose magically appeared! i could have sworn that it was not there before.

    i couldn't conceal my excitement any longer and ran towards the magician.

    before i could reach him, the magician clasped his hand together, enclosing the rose and when he opened it, a pigeon appeared.


    so how would u do your literature review?
    take an idea from the example and explain it in term of theoretical underpinning.

    "pft, owh i've seen it all before.."
    critical theory
    impact of critical theory on the initial perception of illusionary performance

    "a rose magically appeared!"
    theory of perception
    gregory's theory of illusion

    "i couldn't conceal my excitement any longer"
    theory of surprise ie result contradicts preceding actions
    theory of humor

    so, get my drift?

    we gotta turn PHD from "Permanent Head Damage" into "Playground's Here Dude!"

    u know, u could study pokemon and try to analyze how it's quite magical. i mean, come on, how can a fluffy yellow cuddly thingy shoot out electric and stuff?

    have fun katy. phd is supposed to be fun. :)