I’ve been ruminating tonight on the fact that I am now 9 months into the PhD process. Time truly does fly when you’re having fun. And, for the most part I would say it’s been a fun journey.
It’s been a journey of highs and lows, successes and failures. The lows and failures, I must admit, are mostly me being hard on myself. There are times when I feel like I am making incredible progress in terms of formulating my thinking on a certain topic only to realise I am having difficulty in translating those thoughts onto the page. Let me explain…
About 2 months ago I got myself all worked up. So much so that I pretty much stopped writing. I kept reading, making notes, annotating, jotting down ideas etc, but in terms of actual, tangible, submittable thesis words…nothing. I realised I needed to get out of the slump but didn’t really know how to go about it. The enormity of the task that lay before me was starting to build. I arranged a meeting with my supervisory team. During this meeting I was able to update them on progress to date so far. Tell them some of the practical and theoretical implications of my research. Explain, (somewhat) coherently my methodology, and articulate a plan for the future. My supervisors, as is their way, gave excellent personal insight into breaking through some of the barriers that PhD students face, as well as giving some expert guidance on the future shape of the thesis. I also heard the advice ‘write everyday’. This was not new advice. But after my supervisory meeting it had new meaning. Gaining the clarity and wisdom from an outside perspective was just the boot in the backside I needed to begin, once again, writing everyday.
I met up with a colleague and friend from QUB about a week ago and we sat and chatted about their project. They also were having some problems breaking through the barriers of what to include, what to cut, what direction to take and how to justify it. It has since dawned on me that this PhD life can become pretty solitary very quickly. I need to be actively, proactively, engaging in communities and conversations with people who are going through the same thing or have been through the same thing. This is crucial. Outside perspective is key.
The PhD is, no doubt, an enormous undertaking. But, the enormity of the task is not in the amount of words that one must produce. Rather, it is in navigating how to cogently and diligently formulate those words into something of worth and value to the academic community at large. How to use the words that you are given economically so that you can maximise your contribution.