Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Last 'Public Engagement'

this month, I had a 'progress review'. the very last one... that same day, I attended a lecture in my department, and went out for a celebratory drink with some PhD friends and colleagues afterwards, again, perhaps for the very last time. (i do not intend to stay in academia; so I wonder if maybe this was my last 'public engagement', for a good long while, and certainly until the 'baby'  - PhD - is born. I wonder if this is how Kate Middleton feels.)

I have not enjoyed the progress reviews. you arrive at the door, you smile at people and try to be agreeable, but basically you know that in a few minutes some professors will be asking you difficult and complicated questions over the inadequate little essay you sent them, and that some of them will tell you that they were 'not convinced' by your argument. there is worse: when they initially arrive, looking casual and happy and pleased with themselves, they go into the room first and shut the door, and from where you are waiting out in the corridor you can hear them conferring. occasionally - and this is the worst bit - you catch a phrase or two. 'She likes to... [mumble mumble mumble]', says your second supervisor's voice. (your ears prick up. what? WHAT do I 'like to' do?...] 'She's very...' and so on. occasionally, the voices fall suspiciously quiet, and you know they are whispering. occasionally, you might hear a brief snort of laughter. while i am sure they are not laughing at me or my work, but more likely at their own wit and brilliance, still, it's rubbish, sitting outside that door and waiting to be let in, to have my 'progress' 'reviewed', and sitting there I feel very small and very sad.

i wish i could be a fly on the wall. what are they saying about my work amongst themselves, in the privacy of their office, that they will not say to me?... if i could hear them, would it help me? would I suddenly have the key to some big mystery that I am not privy to? maybe what they are saying is, she's very unconfident, she'll never be an academic, let's just help her get through this last hurdle, let's not be too mean to her. or maybe they are saying: she's very bright, she likes to work hard on these essays and i am sure that, with a bit more tinkering, she can go very far. either way, it would help me to hear it if they happen to be saying either of these things.

anyway: it is done, it is over, and I shall never have to do one again.

in other news, I feel like I am floundering. some extra-curricular teaching stuff, as well as a weekend spent travelling, have got in the way of me doing any PhD work for the past five days or so. I have been away from it for long enough that I can't remember what the relevant files are saved under, or what I last did on that chapter, or where I was going, or how on earth I could have convinced myself that I will soon be finished, when there is clearly shitloads of work still to be done. I haven't had time to incorporate any of the changes the tutors suggested at my progress review. I haven't done a thing, really. I feel a bit like a runaway train. and I have an impossible to-do list of non-PhD things that I don't even want to go near. and I have to find the mental space to finish a PhD.

but then, today, i thought: it's only a PhD. I can't seem to finish it - but why not?... what would happen if I DID... just finish it? just type it out, any old how, hand it in to the supervisors and check for typos while they are reading it (to save time). it doesn't matter if it's rubbish. i am not going to be an academic. why am I still tinkering with it? why don't I just finish it?...

so tomorrow, when I have a whole day free, I will sit down and I will just finish my introduction. I am just going to do it, fast and imperfectly. I will hold a finished thing in my hands. I will need to play with it again on the following day. but it's time to get something a bit more 'finished'. it's time to start finishing.

I want to finish this thing so I can start something else.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Desperately Seeking... Motivation

Just a quick post today to announce to the world that I AM BORED. I am struggling massively to get ANYTHING written today. this has been the case all week. I have tried to have fun things to do lined up, so I don't feel that my life is a massive burden. I have tried to do a half-hour of work here and there, and have tried to bribe myself with promises such as 'just one half-hour;, or 'just write about this person and then you can go' (I am trying to write my literature review. i have been told that it's normal to feel very bored when you are doing this). Nothing is working; i just don't want to.

'When you sit down to write your literature review', the Clever Professor told an auditorium-ful of us students, at his seminar entitled 'How To Write a Literature Review', 'the first thing you will do is make yourself a cup of tea. ... You will then switch on the TV to see if there is anything good on. You might even, exceptionally, find yourself wanting to do a bit of ironing.' As we laughed, he explained: the point is, you will not want to write your literature review. It IS a bit boring and tedious, EVERYONE feels this way, YOU will feel this way, and so don't beat yourself about it.

The thing is, i really, reeeeeeeally WANT to write my literature review. Because as soon as it is written, I have it, and I have done it. And I can edit it. And I will be one step closer to finishing my PhD. But what's stopping me is this: I know that there is a lot of work to do before it will be finished. From typing out my notes about what so-and-so has written, and why it's relevant to my argument, to actually arranging those notes in a coherent form, in such a way that they justify the need for my research, blah blah blah - I can see a long and winding road ahead, a thorny and treacherous path, and I can see the faces of supervisors, blank with incomprehension and asking me 'what am I trying to say'. Part of me cannot be arsed.

Another part of me knows that I have to be arsed, and that I want to be arsed. This part of me will now go and get a scrap of paper, and begin scribbling.

Oh God, it's 11:46. (Am wondering if I should go read from the Procrastination Bible again to help me feel motivated and serene. Am concerned, however, that I could spend so much time studying this holy text that I would never actually get around to doing any work anyway.)

A PhD is really a horrible, horrible thing. Please spread the word to the younger generation: DON'T DO IT.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

It's Good to Talk

can i just say: i bloody love therapy. if you are reading this, and you hate your PhD right now - oh my God, just DO IT. look up 'Student Counselling Services' on your university's web page and give them a ring. sitting there, having someone's undivided attention for 55 minutes, and getting to talk about YOU, is just wonderful. it is a luxury and i am hugely enjoying it. i'm kind of gutted that i arrived late to the last one, meaning that i missed out on five of those precious minutes available to me.

'hello, how are you?...' i asked my therapist when i came in. i was only being polite, you know. (but also - and here's the thing - i genuinely wanted to know. ever since i first went in for a session in January, the brain fog seems to have lifted, the crying has stopped, and I am more likely to mean it when I smile at someone and I ask them how they are.)

this one is a new one. my regular therapist suggested having a session with this one, for the sake of having 'a new voice' and a new perspective on things. i was all up for it, even though I don't necessarily feel that there's still something 'wrong' now and that i 'need' this; but it's available and it's free and i am determined to make the most of it while i can.

'well, i'm fine', she said, looking a bit odd, 'but it isn't ABOUT me, is it; it's about YOU.' and she smiled.

i love her.

later on in the session, she picked up on the fact that i'd said that. (I won't bore you with all the things I told her about myself and all the things she responded with; but she did go back to that 'hello, how are you' moment.) 'sometimes, when there is an individual such as yourself, very resilient and clever, socially adaptable, striving to be nice to people - and even today, when you walked in, the first thing you said was 'how are YOU?' ... and, like I said: it isn't about ME.'

I walked away from that session wanting to sit in a coffee shop by myself and think about the things she'd said. she made it sound like she thought i am going through life telling everyone 'i am fine', when actually it might be better if i said 'i feel shitty', which would be closer to the truth. but, i thought, we HAVE to carry on, and we HAVE to make ourselves be fine. what are you to do when you are a fifteen-year-old girl, and things are not great and you're feeling intensely sad, and you are anything but fine, yet there are GCSEs to be sat and a life to be lived? what good will it do you if you refuse to plough on and work hard? what can you do instead, anyway? it's not like you can disappear off to Australia for a fantastic gap year. you are not fine, yet there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well pretend you are fine, get the shit done, and... carry on. what else can we do but carry on?...

'sometimes, there then comes a time when we cannot carry on anymore', said the therapist. this was interesting, and profound. it's like Therapist 1 dealt with my more immediate issues, issues of the PhD and the gloominess; Therapist 2 now seems to be digging a little deeper.

i'm not sure where she was going with all this. all i do know is: ever since meeting Therapists 1 and 2 - and I don't know if this was just down to them, or if this was in conjunction with other things that were happening - some useful books i read, some sources of motivation i unearthed from somewhere, friends and family who said nice things - or maybe i just made more of an effort to have fun, and worry less?... - i don't know if it was the therapy on its own or a combination of things, but i do know that, since around the time I first went, i cry much less, and i have fun much more. 

and the PhD - although it seems to be crawling along at a maddeningly slow rate (and this is partly down to the fact that I no longer worry and no longer care), it IS crawling along. i have some chapter drafts (whatever form they may be in). i have started writing the dreaded literature review, and have surprised myself by thinking: this isn't so hard. i had to fill in an official progress form, and i didn't feel like i was lying when i ticked the 'satisfactory progress' box. i am going to be fine.

today's advice: type in 'Student Counselling services', followed by the name if your University, into Google. read what it says. consider doing what it says. imagine yourself picking up the phone, or filling in the self-referral form. it doesn't have to be scary, it doesn't mean anything, it doesn't say anything about you or define who you are. it's a resource available to you like any other, towards which you are contributing with your student fees; if you think it might be remotely helpful, use it. i do wish i'd thought of this sooner. i mean, for goodness' sake: a Bachelor's degree, then a Master's, then all manner of postgraduate pussyfooting-around, and only now, at the very end of it, did I pick up that phone. and all the while, this luxury was there, just there, within reach. i do wish someone had told it to me like this. 

today's book recommendation: Patrick Dunleavy, 'Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write & Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation'.