Monday, 29 July 2013

Why I hate my PhD (again)

When people told me, back in March, that I should ‘start shutting down the PhD’, ‘stop adding things’ and ‘ignoring new avenues of research’, ‘making it smaller instead of bigger’ – I’m not sure I really took that advice on board, let alone understood it. That’s what the problem was, I think: I didn’t get that advice.

There is a difference between making something better, and getting it finished. At some point you have to stop trying to make it better, in the sense that you have to stop trying to come up with something better than what you’ve already got; instead you should spread all your chapters out on the floor, and start tarting up what you have – including cutting things out, binning incomplete references instead of following them up, taking out footnotes instead of beefing them up. Just get rid of it, says the official advice.

I think when I heard ‘shut it down’, I read ‘oh yes, precisely, that’s what I need to do. Shut it down. But of course I just have to look up this reference still, and check everything that’s been written on this, and…’

I have been thinking that i really want a draft of PhD finished by next week (mini family crisis demands my presence for a few days). My PhD friend suggests: treat this like a take-home exam. set the day it's due and treat it like an exam script (quite a long one). Imagine you've been given what you have already and the task is to make it as good as possible by a certain minute of a certain hour of a certain day. Take-home exam.

This afternoon, feeling reasonably pleased with myself, i took my laptop to my favourite quiet pub and tried to find the latest, most up-to-date version of chapter 2 to work on. i was even quite excited, thinking 'i might get it finished today' (i'm a bit deluded, i know.) Yet no recently updated version was forthcoming. i searched and searched my hard drive; all i could find was some old drafts with supervisors' comments (not incorporated) dating back to December, and a 2000-word document into which i had apparently begun pasting a corrected version. i can only conclude that i have started my revisions of chapter 2, stalled, been called away by the threat of the next impending deadline, and never got around to finishing that task. come to think of it, none of my other chapters are finished either.

just for once - never mind the therapy, the happiness books, the self-help literature; never mind all their good work, let's undo it all in one fell swoop - i allowed myself to feel as unhappy as i wanted to. and so now here i am, grumpy and tired, have had a bit of a cry, and have chapter 2 (the printed version from the spring, with my cryptic corrections written on it, arrows and hieroglyphics going off in all directions) before me, waiting for me to reacquaint myself with it. i promise myself that next time i am doing a huge and impossible task, and i want to quit, i shall not turn for advice to friends and lovers, all of whom say 'no don't quit! you can do it/ it's only for one more year!' - and then go off and spend their evenings playing games on their smartphones. in the meantime, i sit here, alone in this messy room, which is filled to the rafters with PAPER, wading through piles of mess, vacillating constantly between self-imposed Zen calm, and then occasional periods of wild and utter despair. 

...I guess i'll just get back to work then.



  1. reading old emails to my supervisor, as i try to double-check that i really don't have a draft of this chapter saved in there somewhere. God, the person writing these emails sounds so NICE. she sounds so cheery, and so grateful to be having a meeting, and so thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss something she's written. she sounds so lovely and humble and appreciative of everything she's got. you'd never guess that she's in some dark emotional hole.

    trouble is, when you get into that hole, it feels pointless and annoying to crawl back out again. but you can't write PhDs in the hole. right, must claw my way back to my former state of artificial contentment. first step: CHOCOLATE.

  2. Last week I read a sentence that made me smile. It was the best advice I ever read concerning my PhD. I'm seriously considering putting it on the first page of my PhD manuscript.

    I think you should read it 4 times, very slowly, and then get back to work, with this sentence in your head.

    "It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be done."

  3. I LIKE this advice and shall try and follow it religiously! xx