Friday, 21 June 2013

Temporary remedies for worker-ants

Earlier this week, Nick Hopwood posted 10 things you should know about a PhD but may not have been told.  On reading the post I located myself somewhere between 1. (you and your work are crucial to the future of humanity and the world); 2. (you're in an astonishing position of privilege); 5. (yes it is hard) and 6. (you will continue to feel like a fraud).  It hasn't been a comfortable position to be in!  So in the spirit of Nick's '10 things' here are a paltry three I've come up with as a remedy for my current discomfort:

1. Scale down.  Getting limited satisfaction from small stuff can gradually ease the sense of disappointment and impending panic (what's the point?  I've wasted six months reading the wrong things? etc).  A week of small stuff means my desk's tidier, I've got my references up to date AND I've managed to work on small tasks which will, at some point, contribute towards the whole: drafting small sections in timed sessions; checking out bang up to date journal articles on my topic....If I haven't done what I'd ideally like to have done this week, I have, at least done something.

2. Let some air in. The atmosphere between you and your supervisor(s) can become very rarified.  Allow yourself and your ideas to breathe.  Get fresh air circulating.   Talk to others in your field whose opinion you respect, absorb the implications of different perspectives, rehearse your ideas in different circles.  Freshen your thinking and your conviction about your research and your right to do it may well strengthen.  And there's nothing better than literally taking some air.  Get outside and walk.  

3. Get off the beaten track.  If your confusion and sense of inadequacy are becoming entrenched, try a detour.  Cross discipline, read someone/something new, go and hear someone speak/sing/play and enjoy their competence in what they do.  Sometimes detours give us unexpected views of the roads we were travelling on or remind us why we chose that route in the first place.  

I'll let you know how it goes....

Thursday, 13 June 2013

seventy steps of shame

My PhD supervisor's office is on the third floor of an old building without a lift.  I counted the other day - there are 70 steps up, with a particularly steep flight of stairs between the second and third floors.  I've developed a habit of pausing, twice, on my way up so as not to arrive breathless and sweaty in their office - I'm sure they're heartily sick of visitors' complaints!  I suspect however, that my stair-climbing routine is not only for their comfort, but also something to do with the complex, tacit and occasionally uncomfortable powerplay at work in the supervisory relationship.  After all, if I arrive literally unable to speak, my voice can't be heard.  

Developing my own voice within my writing has been something I've been working on this year - and the work continues!  Ensuring my voice is heard in the shaping of my empirical research is a whole new - and quite honestly - unexpected - project and I have a feeling I'm just at the start of it!  As with many things 'PhD', these territorial scuffles are a part of the journey for which the directions are imprecise, everyone will have their version of the 'right' way to get from A-B. 

Back to that staircase....I may have a strategy for going up those stairs, but going down them can be a different matter.  Last week, they became the 70 steps of shame after a bruising supervisory session.  Bruising you understand, only to a fledgling academic intellect and a fragile ego.  Ten days later and I'm still assessing and working through the impact.  I'm assailed by all those feelings doctoral students experience - I'm not good enough, I can't do it....I recognise that the downer has come as such a shock because only a month earlier I'd finally felt I was making some real progress, getting a grasp of the literature, developing my own voice in my writing.  No doubt you'll tell me this is all part of the journey too, detours and dead ends are essential!

Monday, 3 June 2013

a different light

I've been staring rather hard at the view from my window recently.  I'm moving from rural Gloucestershire to urban Yorkshire at the end of the summer. So I'm trying to imprint on my memory the sight of spring in the garden and across the valley.

One thing which always beguiles and sometimes startles me is the sudden transformation worked by the sun emerging from cloud or the simple and temporary brilliance of the evening sun on the fields and the trees.  It's like a light being switched on - an illumination.

My experience of my doctoral research can be like that (ok, not that often!).  Suddenly, through reading, or writing, my perspective shifts, opens up and ideas, concepts, metaphors connect.  I realise the connections have been there all along, but invisible to me, just waiting for the clouds to clear or the sun to move, imperceptibly, to another spot.  

I want to capture these moments of insight, just as I'm trying to hold the sight of the fields, trees and shadows in my memory.  If I don't get them down on paper/on screen, then like the way the sunlight travels across the fields and the leaves, they can be all too transitory.