Not all who loiter are lost

Scholarly bubble

A group of my friends at uni are in their last few months of their PhD. They are in the home stretch. I can’t help but wish I was in their place. I tell them this and the reaction I get are genuine looks of trepidation and anxiety. They tell me it feels like they’re so close to the finish line, but also feel so far away from it. 

Meanwhile, my cohort is right in the middle of the phd journey, not anywhere close to the finish line. Most of us have our data complete and are working on the analysis. Also, a lot are feeling like they are in a bit of a slump. ‘People said research is difficult. We thought they were referring to the challenges of getting negative results, but really it’s the experience of being at this for years and not really seeing anything change or whatever is… difficult.” We remind each other to be kind to ourselves - we are all also trying to navigate through the disruption brought about by the pandemic. 

A PhD is a big project to undertake and it takes a lot of time. Being so close to the work also doesn’t help us to see how much we actually accomplish along the way. It feels like the years are rolling by and here we are, still students, still working on the same topic. But isn’t that what a PhD is all about too? Taking the time to master a topic, carve out a niche, and contribute to the larger body of knowledge? Isn’t this also a part of what drew us to sign-up for a PhD, have the time to properly scrutinise our research question? I won’t presume to know why my peers feel a bit disheartened at the moment, maybe a part of it is also worrying about the future given the current economic and health crisis. Maybe we’re on the receiving end of those who say, ‘why don’t you get a real job’. 

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success.Cheryl Strayed

I’m starting to remember and realise just how fortunate I am to have this time, this seemingly selfish time to invest in myself again. I’m lucky to have kept my job and be able to study and work at the same time, to be able to continue to provide for my little family unit of my daughter and I. I’m blessed to have such loving friends and family. If the pandemic has taught me anything, one of the lessons would be about how unpredictable life can be. The crisis didn’t just happen to me, it’s happened to everyone. Everything seems uncertain at the moment. So many in permanent positions have lost their jobs. Families have found themselves temporarily separated from each other. Interstate borders open and shut repeatedly. Although outsiders may see my time as a PhD student frivolous and foolish, to me it’s valuable time that’s being invested in re-calibrating my plans and goals. It’s not only time put towards scholarly contemplation, but also towards introspection. It’s also my time to master my strengths and improve my weaknesses. First the knowing, then the doing, and then the rising.

You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.Michael Jordan


Tagged in what messes with your head, phd, self-care, Student life, parent-student