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The Diary of a PhD Student: Separation Anxiety


Separation Anxiety is defined as ‘anxiety provoked in a young child by separation or threat of separation from its mother or main carer’. Writing as someone who has just submitted the second draft of their creative thesis to their supervisor – still 18,000 words shy of the length it should be, might I add – I feel like I’m currently in a steady position to widen that definition – or at the very least, add an alternative meaning to it, perhaps.

Separation Anxiety (2):
The feeling experienced by tortured creative types on distributing their work to a group of people who aren’t morally obligated to care about their feelings, and will therefore give them (brutally) honest feedback on their submission.

When you look at it that way, I think the anxiety I’m feeling right now is legitimate. Entirely useless and fairly debilitating when it comes to establishing a proper work regime for the remaining chunk of my thesis, which I still haven’t written. But legitimate, nevertheless.

For the past few weeks my mantra has been, ‘I just want rid of it for a bit now. I can’t stand to look at it anymore.’ I was elated by the prospect of having the book off my plate for a while, sinking gleefully back into research and flinging around some opinions like I knew what I was talking about – which I sometimes do, depending on which research paper I’m thinking of writing that day (yes, it really is that changeable). But now the time has come and, like an anxious mother leaving the house without the baby for the first time, I am plagued by a series of feelings and questions that I should – should – be pushing to the back of my mind in an orderly fashion. So nervous am I, in fact, that I’ve started to second guess what my supervisor will find wrong with the book!

I think the plot is thinner in this one, and the pace, which lagged in the first draft, is now too fast-moving – hence the major drop in the word count and oh yes, let’s not forget that problematic word count. Despite not viewing these as real-life issues with the book ahead of emailing it in – and therefore doing nothing to fix them – they are now top on my list of expected critiques, to the point that I may email my lecturer shortly:

Dear –,
I was wrong. This isn’t the second draft. Please disregard previous email. DO NOT read document that was attached. I’ll be in touch.
Best –
One of your stress-ball students.

I am over-shooting this slightly, I know.

They are the issues I expect to hear back on from my supervisor, but I’ve also not ruled out the possibility that I’m totally wrong about them – maybe the pace is much better this way, and with a shorter book comes a more condensed plot and so maybe that’s fine too. The word count is, for me, an ongoing issue, but the underlying idea behind sending this second draft out to not only my supervisor but also to readers outside of a university setting is that they can read it and tell me what’s missing – because I know that something is and, given that this is the second draft of the book, I know that it’s perfectly acceptable for something to be missing at this stage. That’s my logical hat that I’m wearing there. But, while straddling the line between writer and academic, not quite knowing whether I am actually either of those things, I reserve the right to wear my illogical hat on occasion – because I wear that one particularly well.

Separation Anxiety (3):
The feeling of anxiety experienced in post-graduate university students on realising that a) time is no longer in close proximity and is, in no uncertain terms, slipping away from them and b) their ideas for their research paper are slowly slipping away from them also, causing both the student and the research paper to become two entirely separate entities that no longer live harmoniously together, and show no signs of doing so for some time.

But I’ll bank that for a future blog post. 

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