Feeling a bit sad this morning, as I realise, not for the first time: I don’t like research. I don’t like it, I am not excited about it, I… I just don’t like it. I have been to many seminars on ‘Managing your Motivation’, I have sought out many Gurus and Masters and tried following all sorts of advice. I’ve seen a therapist. I’ve read countless books about PhDs, motivation, meditation, concentration, WHAT HAVE YOU. I’ve done so much brainwashing to my poor old brain. Maybe I should just face facts: I don’t like research, and maybe I shouldn’t be doing it…
This depresses me slightly, because: if not research/ academia, then what?... I have been hankering after some kind of academic post. ‘You shouldn’t do that’, the Lover told me. ‘You don’t LIKE doing this.’ ‘But I like the teaching’, I proffered. ‘Yes, but that bit is for people who like doing THIS’, he said, indicating my laptop, my papers, and my PhD, hopelessly spread out on the bed, still stalled at revisions of Chapter 2. (my very realistic schedule said I should be on chapter 4 this week. But despite making a schedule, and despite making it so realistic that anyone should be able to stick to it, I just… haven’t.)
That conversation arose out of another conversation: I had confessed to him that I had spent the better part of my morning making a very silly, personalized gift for someone very dear to me. (the gift was a sort of silly ‘newsletter’, with lots of in-jokes, designed to make that person laugh. She knows I had the idea of making one for her and sending it to her, because I once threatened to do it and she laughed and laughed; I couldn’t bear to leave it ‘not done’, so one day I just stopped putting it off and did it.) I sat there, yesterday morning, at my desk, with a concentration which afterwards astonished me, and I wrote funny things and I cut and pasted silly pictures, and I imagined this person receiving this silly gift and reading it and bursting out laughing; I could picture which bits she would find hilarious, I knew what would tickle her sense of humour and why. I knew she would love it. And afterwards – the whole thing took maybe from 8:30 to about 11:30 in the morning – I looked and looked at it, I put it in an envelope and went out to post it, and as I walked around a pretty bit of my local area to clear my head, I couldn’t help thinking about this thing I had just made, and all sorts of thoughts kept occurring to me, and I couldn’t help but think ‘damn it, I could have put THIS instead of THAT. That would have been brilliant. … Oooh, d’you know, what would ALSO have been good…’ Ideas just kept coming and coming to me. And when I got home, I just looked at my little work of art again and again. I basically couldn’t help but feel really bloody pleased with myself, for having created something which someone else will enjoy. It occurred to me: God, there MUST be some kind of way of transposing these kinds of positive feelings onto the PhD. When I get into a creative project of my own, I can literally sit there and work on it for HOURS. I could have sat there all day and made this silly little thing really terrific (the only reason I didn’t was because I do have a PhD to write, and essays to mark…). I thought, maybe I should tell the therapist about this.
So later, I told the lover what I’d been doing, and how happy it made me feel, and how I wish I could feel as excited and pleased with myself – and feel the same urge to stare at my own work and love it – when I’m doing my PhD…. And his response was along the lines of, I get the feeling that you need to be doing stuff like THIS (pointing to my silly project, which I had lovingly photocopied and taped to the wall above my desk) rather than THIS (pointing to PhD). He has seen me get excited about my own little projects, or slightly more serious arty projects which have been commissioned by other people. He has seen me stay up at night for hours and not mind, he’s seen me forget about everything and lose myself in the task and concentrate on it intensely, until I finally notice that my legs ache from being in the same position for ages, that there is a very cold piece of toast on a plate next to me which someone brought me hours ago and I forgot all about it, and that somehow four hours have gone by, during which I have not moved, and not looked up once from what I’m doing. And he has heard me say, several times already, I’m sure, I wish I could feel like this about my PhD!... There must be a way!...
There have been a few occasions when I have been excited about my PhD. Like when your brain makes a sudden connection and you have a great idea and it makes you sit up and go: Oh! oh! OH!... (I wonder what the neighbours upstairs were thinking.) There HAVE been a few times when I got really excited, wrote down a good idea, and felt really pleased with myself. But most of the time, it’s just me, at my desk, trying very hard to steel myself to do half an hour’s work on this thing, bribing myself with promises of treats and exercise and breaks, reminding myself that this is My Choice, telling myself that I Can Do This… Most of the time, I just feel like I’m trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. And I never sit there thinking to myself, oh, God, I reeeeeally need to go and get on with something else now… but go on then, I’ll just reread my ‘chapter 1’ just one more time, because it’s just so damn good!...’ yeah, right. I wish…
Maybe I should face facts: I don’t like writing a PhD, I don’t like research, I don’t like writing about books. I love making beautiful things which are all my own creative work and which will make people happy. I don’t like writing books about books, which will then be criticized and appraised by someone (‘it is not clear why the candidate has chosen to cite the work of XYZ…’ ‘The candidate should be aware…’ ‘More careful attention should have been paid to…’ ‘We would have liked to have seen more of…’ – oh God, I just don’t like it. I don’t care, and I don’t like it.)
This is a bit annoying, because: if I don’t like this, then I should get out. And that means starting at the very bottom of some other career ladder. That means I have spent three – no, wait: four – years of my life, getting a professional qualification which I now won’t use. It means starting all over again, and … asking myself the question, all over again: what to do with life?... (I’m a bit sick of starting again; I’m a bit sick, too, of asking that question. People pose it to me it often enough, and I NEVER HAVE THE FOGGIEST as to what to tell them.)
‘You’re such a great teacher’, I remember one student once telling me, somewhere around the third year of my PhD; ‘you have such a lovely way with people.’ That was the main reason why I carried on entertaining thoughts of working in academia. But the more ‘careers’ workshops and talks I go to, the more I see: number one on your CV is research, number two is teaching. These jobs, and the fun bits that come with them, are, then, perhaps not for me.
And the lover is right: I should go away and do something I actually care about, do something I really love (however terrifying I find this idea), and not mind starting at the bottom, and not think that it’s too late in my life to do this, because it isn’t.
Still have to somehow do this annoying PhD, mind. And I have just spent the better part of an hour debating with myself as to why I don’t want to.
Anyway - thank you, blank computer screen, for taking all this down. And thank you, fellow PhD-haters, for reading it.