Saturday, 1 February 2014

Further Reading

Dear all,

Don't think that I've forgotten you. On the contrary, I'm still very much scribbling blog entries in my notebook when I can. All I need is a bit of time to type them into my little computer one of these days. But I haven't forgotten you. Far from it. I'm thinking about all my PhD-writing friends, in the real world and in the blogosphere, and wishing you all the best of luck.

I do my best to pass on the wisdom to the odd friend or acquaintance who is starting a PhD. 'Don't work too hard. If you work too hard, you'll end up resenting the PhD.' 'Remember, a day in which you managed 3 hours' of focused work is a GOOD day.' 'Try the tomato technique.' 'Take the weekends off; you will work better on the other days if you take time out to rest'. Be nice to yourself, and be nice to your PhD. Don't say things like 'this stupid PhD'. Don't do that. Don't do that to yourself.' 'If you tell yourself negative things, it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. When you find yourself wanting to say 'I can't do this', instead try to say something like, "OK, i can do this small bit for ten minutes. And then I will stop."'

The other day, I sprang all this advice on a first-year PhD student whom someone introduced to me in the college coffee room; she looked taken aback, but pleased, and thanked me for it (she said she especially liked hearing about the necessity of the free weekend. She had complained about wasting her weekends in trying, and failing, to work). I notice, on the other hand, that when I pester my close friends with my new-found wisdom, they tend to be less receptive. You'd think that, given that they are starting their PhDs and I have just finished one, and am therefore fresh off the train-wreck that is the PhD, they'd be quite keen to pick up any tips from me. They have already started complaining - I can't do this, will I ever finish, what have i got myself into? - and the classic: This is too hard - and that is why I desperately want to tell them the things I wish someone had told me, early on. But they don't quite seem to believe me; maybe it's because they know me as Me, not as PhD-Expert-Counsellor-Extraordinaire. Maybe it's because they think (like I once did) that a PhD is meant to be hard, none of this three-hours-a-day bullshit. Maybe they are quite enjoying the complaining, and the acute disliking of their PhDs. Indeed, it does seem more fun to have the drama and the chaos and self-hate, rather than three hour working days and then placid coffees with friends. (It does seem a lot more 'real' and attainable to most of us, anyway.)

The thing is... it's so much harder to do your PhD if you are hell-bent on not liking it. If you spend your whole time telling yourself that you hate your PhD and you don't want to do it, you're basically giving yourself twice the work; every time you sit down to try and work on it, you are working against yourself. Every time you try to get into it, you must first overcome your ingrained resistance. You have just spent ages telling your brain that you don't like this and you don't want to be doing it, and then you wonder why it was really hard to concentrate, and why you didn't get anything done that day.

Maybe I'm just so desperate to pass on the advice, and heal the world, that I'm doing it all wrong: I'm springing all the advice on people at once, telling them everything they might possibly want to know in one breath, and more, until their heads are spinning. Maybe it's no wonder they're not listening to me; no wonder only polite strangers are happy to sit still while I go on and on. (I'd make a terrible teacher; I always over-complicate things by trying to tell people EVERYTHING, the conjugation of a verb AND the meaning of life, all at once.)

Anyway. Enough with the advice. Since finishing the PhD, and doing the viva, I have:

- gone on holiday. I sat in the sun and ate great food. I read a trashy novel. It was just what the Doctor ordered.


- read a new self-help book, which is like a cherry on top of the lovely icing that was the Procrastination Bible. It is called 'Overcoming Underearning' and it's by Barbara Stanny. For all of you PhD students out there who are wondering what the hell to do with your life, and how on earth you'll make ends meet: I recommend it for inspiration.