Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Diary of a PhD Student: Just gimme my PhD already!

It’s been a little while – nearly two months, in fact – so, before I opened this fresh word document, I had a quick peek at the blog post I uploaded back in January. And I actually snorted. A derisory, judgemental, ‘Oh, you foolish child,’ kind of snort. 

I will love my research, every day? What on earth was I thinking? 

I lied, as it turns out. I haven’t loved my research how I promised to; in fact, if we were married, my research would probably have filed for divorce by now on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, and I wouldn’t be able to dispute a damn word that my research said. My research would leave with half of everything – I’m a PhD student though, so my ‘everything’ isn’t exactly much – but my research and I would both know that, after the last two months, it really deserved more than half. Much, much more.

That’s where we have been. And here’s what happened to get us to this point:

I started writing my research paper. I wrote around 400 hundred words; I reread it; I cried for a little bit, then I deleted that word document and started again. Over the course of three days I wrote around 2100 words – which I convinced myself was a good turn-out – and I also managed to convince myself that I knew where I was going. I had my question, my focus, my shit was firmly together for the first time in what felt like forever, and I was relatively good to go.

Until I Skyped with my supervisor.

He did that thing that he does, where he asks me loads of poignant questions and I give him equally poignant answers, and then he carefully guides me down the garden path towards realising that what I’ve written in no way reflects the answers that I have provided him with. And then I cried some more. I showed my other half – my, thankfully, patient other half – the list of what my introduction should contain, rather than what it actually contained, and he said:

‘So, you basically need to write down the stuff you say every time you talk about your PhD?’

That’s how simple it is! It’s that easy and that hard all at once. I know what I’m going to say in my research paper because I’ve been researching it for nearly three years. What I didn’t know was how to properly adhere to academic practices, and academic expectations; whether my tone was pompous/academic enough or whether I needed to be using seven words in place of the one I was actually using because long and rambling sentences make for a better academic tone. Right?


It was a harsh moment of realisation on my part but one that is certainly worth sharing for anyone else about to get down their research paper, frantically worrying how to make themselves sound, on paper, more clever than they actually feel.

The realisation was this: What you know is enough.

 When push comes to shove, what you know is actually all you have. When I’m in a job interview – hell, even when I’m engaged in polite conversation with someone who cares enough to ask about my research – there will not be a synonyms button for me to hit every other word. There will be me and there will be all of this knowledge kicking around in my lizard brain from three years (plus) of working in this area, and that will have to be enough for anyone I might find myself talking to. It’s enough now, actually, I just didn’t realise it until my supervisor told me (which is how most of my PhD has gone so far, so I should have seen it coming, really).

Sure, my research and I might be kicking off at each other again, but the best of relationships go through the worst of times and they end up just fine. The business card of a divorce lawyer is pinned to my notice board, but my research hasn’t called it yet – and it won’t. The Valley of Shit will not beat us and my research paper will get written – because I know some stuff, even when I feel stupid, even when I am not a real academic. I still know some stuff. 

And now...

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