Last week I met up for coffee (well, hot chocolate - if I liked coffee my life would be A LOT easier and my stomach probably less rotted from sugar-free Red Bull) with one of my PhD colleagues. The conversation turned to how we hate the question ‘how’s the PhD going?’ and how the answer is always along the lines if ‘urgh, alright, I suppose’. We all know PhDs are really hard, and they wouldn’t be worth very much if anyone could do one. But there is this culture that, even if it’s going amazingly, you have to tone it down. You can’t look like you’re having too much fun (unless you’re trying to sell the PhD at an open evening). It’s like you’re somehow ‘letting the team down’ if things are going reasonably well. There are really hard times and, being of a realistic (some say pessimistic) nature, I often find it hard to be positive about the PhD myself. So, this post, I’m deliberately going to write about the parts of my PhD that are going quite well at the moment, actually. I’m not saying everyone is having an objectively nice time, of course - just finding things in my experience that I sometimes lose sight of!
**The writing is going well. **I’ve written something like 14,000 words in the past month without busting a gut - just the odd writing day where I manage about 2,000 words here and there. I’ve written one chapter, and my supervisor has hinted that it’s good - apparently, the close-up on people’s lives was totally the way to go. That’s given me the confidence to make a start on the next chapter while I’m waiting to find out what editing I need to do.
**I know my subjects pretty damn well. **I’ve read hundreds of the childhood-bits of autobiographies and listened to a pile of oral histories, yet I feel like I know a lot of the only children. For instance, I’ll be able to remember who said a certain thing, and even the title of the autobiography it came from. I’ll start reading my notes from an oral history transcription and be like ‘I remember this person, they did XYZ’. And according to some reading I did this week, the fact that I recognise that I myself am not completely coherent personality-wise helps me empathise with my only children. Yay!
**I’ve got a ton of reading done. **Remember that post I did about learning to love my PhD again by reconnecting with the secondary literature? By continuing to read, I’ve been building up my bibiliography, and I feel like I’m getting more knowledgeable, too. Also, I just really love reading, so it’s fun to sit down and spend the afternoon expanding my mind and not feel guilty because it’s my job.
**I have something to offer. **I’ve been asked to give some advice to second years who are about to start their Independent Research Projects (dissertations to you and me). I actually feel like I’m qualified to give them that advice. What’s more, I’m not afraid to stand in front of them and give it. Hooray for pushing myself to do - and succeeding at - giving conference presentations and teaching.
Of course, the real challenge is continuing to remember the positive things - especially after next month’s board, if it’s anything like the last one. It’s so easy to get bogged down with the difficulties and things that aren’t going so well with a PhD, and I’m certainly susceptible to it. Maybe I’ll be able to look at this post in the future and it’ll cheer me up a bit.