Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Happy New Year

In the third Christmas holiday of the PhD, I went to spend Christmas itself with the family, but planned to leave them for New Year’s and celebrate this with the Beloved and some friends in the city. (The Lover had patiently allowed me to choose our New Year’s venues for the previous two years, and so this year the choice was his; he chose city.)

New Year’s Eve morning found me in a dreadful mood. I dawdled over the packing. As I wandered discreetly about the house, disappearing every five minutes to blow my nose and trying not to be seen, I just couldn’t stop myself from crying. Embarrassingly, while my family and Lover sat around chatting in the dining room, my eyes just would not stop welling up with hideous tears. Every time I thought I got them under control and I emerged from the bathroom with my nose powdered and my eyes suspiciously bright, some thought would intrude and it would happen again: eyes filling with tears, nose bright red, etc. It was beyond embarrassing. How was I supposed to pack when every two minutes I had to hide away to deal with this?...

Finally, I saw that the strategy wasn’t working, and decided to come clean. I poked my head into the room where there was happy conversation and nice people, and I said, in a voice that tried (and failed) not to tremble, ‘[Lover], maybe we should just go, that way I can stop hanging around, hiding and pretending I’m not crying.’

There was a collective ‘aaaawwww!’ of sympathy, and a few shocked faces, and soon after I disappeared to blow my nose for the millionth time and go get my bags, the Sibling emerged from the room and, in an unprecedented fit of kindness, offered me a lift to the station.

On the train, the Lover put his arm around me. There were people sitting opposite us; I hid my face partly in his shoulder, partly behind my hair. He asked me if I was sad because I had to leave my family. I don’t know what I mumbled in reply, half-indicating assent. Not in a million years would I have told him the shameful truth: I wasn’t anything of the sort. Getting on that train, and leaving Christmas behind, and going back ‘home’, to me meant only one thing: back to reality, and back to the PhD, which at that time was an almost unbearable load to carry. Convinced that I was doing it all wrong, and that maybe if I just worked harder and longer hours then I might be able to get it right, I had worked myself up to the point of exhaustion; I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t crying because I would miss people; no, I was feeling very very sorry for myself, because tomorrow, New Year’s Day, it would surely all have to start again. And I was feeling pretty hopeless about everything in general.

That was my third year of PhD. Since then, I have conquered (thank God) the crying, the sadness, the feeling of the unbearable burden. I do wonder if I shouldn’t have just walked away from the whole thing, though. This PhD still just keeps defeating me, and I keep getting back up (why? what for?) and doing it all again; and then it defeats me again; and on it goes. (or perhaps you might say, ‘I keep winning’ – that would be another way of looking at it...) Ater the 1st of October, only one final (big) defeat is possible, and then hopefully it will be over.

(or you might even say: After 1st October, only one final (big) victory is possible…)

Panic mode

My PhD thesis is much too short. I need at least another 13,000 words.

How did this happen?...

(It seems that, what with all the weeding out of repetitions, all the reducing of long quotations, and generally all my attempts to be concise, I have made it too short.)

Surely this is a very bad thing, eight working days before submission.



...Will Cloud Nine ever finish her PhD? Join us next week!...


Two weeks ago, I applied for a (non-academic) job. A job I have the relevant experience for, and one which I would have loved, and been good at. I spent a half-day fantasizing excitedly about all the possibilities the job offered (ignoring the draft of Chapter 3 which needed doing), and several other days/ half-days, here and there, working painstakingly on the application. After two weeks waiting with baited breath, I got the email yesterday. I didn't even get an interview. They regret but they don't give feedback on unsuccessful applications.

I know that this probably isn't my fault, that I did my best, that the job probably will go to someone internal/ someone with more experience. Whatever. Still, it was sad. Maybe they looked at my CV and saw the long list of educational projects with which I have been amusing myself over the last years, and they thought: no, this person obviously wants to be an academic one day, and they are just thinking of this job as a stop-gap before they get their first academic job.

Maybe I should have quit the PhD in my second year after all.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

'I have a dream' [and I have more than one]

Some things which I might do when the PhD is finished:

- travel. Maybe I'll go on holiday and lie on a beach. Maybe I'll climb something. Maybe I'll walk somewhere.

- get in the car, drive to the supermarket and buy things. On my list are: smoked mackerel fillets; a jar of pickled herring; cashew nuts; a watermelon; printer paper. (Bugger, that last one means I may have to go BEFORE my PhD is finished... ah, well.) There are some things which only YOU know you want, and you only know you want them because they are there in front of you in the shop. Impossible to ask anyone else to get them for you. I occasionally sneak off mid-afternoon and buy things from the local butcher's and greengrocer's, and sneak back home before my PhD notices I'm missing. How I miss spending time in shops, picking out things i want. I long to be a consumer again.

- get a job and earn money; have colleagues; dress up in my nice clothes; make tea for people in an office and tell them about my weekend (oh, how I dream of this). Wear pretty shoes. Maybe go for a drink after work (woohoo!)

- get drunk. I haven't allowed myself this pleasure since... actually, since not that long ago (it was May, someone's birthday, unlimited fizzy wine on offer, I got hideously drunk and slept it off on the way home on the train. It was wonderful.)

- write stories. Not sensible PhD type things, not academic articles, but stories. The crazier, the better. To celebrate the fact that I no longer have to follow a 'style sheet', I might leave a page blank in the middle of the story now and again, or have just one word on the first page, or add a random illustration. To get over my frustrations at forever being told that what I write is too anecdotal and descriptive, and to honour these under-appreciated skillz, I may title my first book: 'Anecdotal'. (it would also mean that alphabetically it's at the top of all the book lists.)

- sign up for a course. NOT an intellectual, academic course. I would love to do an evening class again, the type where you sit with people half your age and learn secret tricks that professionals know. My Wish List includes: a car mechanics course; a massage/ beauty course; a Foundation Art course; flying lessons. I WANT ALL OF THESE THINGS, and more. One day I will have done them all.

- cook. I do a bit of cheeky cooking, on the sly, knowing perfectly well that I'm not allowed to, that I should be checking some footnotes or something. (if my supervisors could see how i spent my afternoon today...) But I would love to know that I am allowed to cook, in the evening, or on a Saturday, and that I can just crack open a bottle of wine (one glass for me, one glass for the pot) and make my own particular brand of magic happen.

- go out in the evenings sometimes. Suggest going out in the evenings of my own accord. Meet up with people in the evenings and talk to them. Go out of my way to spend time with loved ones.

- have weekends; sometimes even have lie-ins.

- waste time. spend time just staring into space, not doing anything. not planning anything, not intending to be anywhere. Just me on my own, with my own thoughts, uninterrupted by these crazed, alien thoughts of how much PhD I have or have not done. 

- maybe do something useful in the world, like volunteer and help someone (which I have done before and which was fun). buy tins of food and take them to a food bank. help out in a charity shop for a couple of hours. volunteer for Nightline, or The Samaritans.

- get a haircut.

In writing this wish list (which is not yet finished, by the way, because I have many more wishes) I am pleased to discover that some of these things I have already managed to do, and keep doing, even recently, even now, even as I finish my PhD.   I have lived a full and happy life. I have not missed out. My life has been full of joys. 


Monday, 9 September 2013


At some point, sitting on a train going somewhere and feeling far too excited about the infinite possibilities of life to actually sit nicely and read bits of my PhD, I used a page from one of my chapters (which I was supposed to be editing) to start scribbling my Acknowledgments. (i hope I can still find that bloody page; I did some good work that day.) it's an important one, and i want to do it right; I want to write something nice about my supervisors, who are my Gods; I want to thank the Lover, who has sat with me through the murkiest times and tried to make himself useful. (and who has not given up and dumped me for some other girl, named something like, say, Kerstin, who would have been much nicer to him and who wouldn't be spending all her time doing a PhD. For not yielding to such frivolous temptations, I shall always be grateful to him.)

then there are a few more acknowledgments which come into my head, which are of a kind that isn't normally included in PhDs (but maybe some of them will be in mine, you never know - first time for everything - because i would also like to say thank you...) :

'...To the staff at the student counselling department at (my Uni): thank you for your invaluable help and support through the difficult times.

...To my Sibling: for your criticism of my PhD, which, when I was ready to give up, made me resolve to carry on and finish just to prove you wrong, I shall always be (kind of) grateful. 
[this one i might just leave out, that way i might make my point even better]

... And to stephiep, JackNohiNZ, Magdalena, mizwit, Fall Girl, C, Holly1983, Pe Aich De Hater,  meanchic, Susie, Kato, universityoflies, gradstudentparentetc, Dani14, Hello & welcome to the Transition Guildford Blog!, Divya, Jen, Lodhi Saab, jacktherat, nervewreck... to everyone who has read my blog and who wrote in with kind words of support and advice: thaaaanks!...'


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

PhD Wisdom

I urge you to have a look at the link above. Someone out there has written some good, succinct advice.

I cite:

For me, the change happened when I relaxed, and stopped worrying about the end result, and just focused on doing things carefully. I told myself, “I don’t care if this works or not, but I’m going to do it to the best of my ability anyway”. [...]

There was a real possibility I would fail my PhD, but I told myself that if I did fail, I would be OK. It would not be the worst thing that would happen in my life, and although it wouldn’t be nice, I would cope. 
I would find a job somehow. I didn’t know how, and I had no plan, but I trusted in my own ability to cope with whatever happened.
True confidence is not having certainty over exactly how things will work out, because that is impossible. True confidence, whether you quit your PhD or continue, comes from not knowing how things will work out, but doing it anyway.