This would probably sum up my relationship with my PhD. At times, you don’t want to carry on, but other times, you don’t want to leave it alone.
It’s not a gradual change, there’s no learning to love it- it’s like a bad mood swing and can happen within the space of an hour.
Thing is, you’re working with experts in your field. You won’t have a chance to say much when two of them get talking, because they won’t stop, but will continue descending into a level of detail so deep that you want to throw yourself through the glass panel on the door in an attempt to escape it all because does that 0.01% error of something really matter? Really?
Then, once you’ve mentally thrown yourself in and out of that glass panel several times, they’ll stop, look at you, say something along the lines of ‘Sorry, it is interesting and relevant stuff’.
You think you’re going to get to ask the (You now realise seemingly stupid) questions, only to watch with horror as they continue on. Back through the door we go.
Somebody checks their watch and then you get to ask your questions for the remaining 15 minutes.
Only you don’t get answers. What type of academic gives you answers? Oh no, they fire 10 questions back at you. So not only are you broken and bloodied from your door diving, you’ve now got question bullets raining down on you and that thin, flimsy umbrella of your knowledge isn’t enough.
I’ve watched people go into meetings all confident and glad that they know their field. I’ve also watched them get blown to pieces by the bomb that is concocted by having many experts in the room at once. Get a set of experts to go over the talk with you first. Pre-emptive question bombing is like a sneak preview of a boss battle. Only more messy.
It doesn’t matter how much camo you put over the area you don’t know, they’ll find it and blow it up. Those little details you skim read smile at you from a distance, laughing at the torture you’re going through.
So after an hours meeting, out shuffles a bloodied, pock marked, full of holes and glass phd student and two supervisors chatting merrily away. I take the scurry off approach and disappear into the hordes of undergrad students. Look at them, all healthy and well, not a scratch on them. All happy and smiling. Bah! May coursework rain upon their heads with unforgiving deadlines attached.
So you essentially scurry back to your office to lick your wounds and live in a (relatively safe) non- supervisor zone. If you share the same supervisor as someone in your office, you compare war stories to make yourselves feel better. You share war-stories anyway. And you all watch cat curling on youtube.
You open your notebook and feel ill and low just looking at the pages of hastily made scribbles. No work will get done for a while; you’re mentally tired and still picking out glass from your brain. Supervisor meetings are like a marathon at a 100m sprint pace for your brain.
Without realising it, your supervisors make you feel very little and worthless. They don’t mean to at all, it just, for whatever reason, knocks you down for a bit, especially if you’re not confident in the first place.
I’ve given up forcing myself to work after a supervisor meeting. I go do admin instead. Or comfort eat. Sometimes the lack of motivation lasts a day or so, so I do easy things like reading and paper hunting, note writing. Little things that make me feel a bit better and a bit more prepared.
Then suddenly, when you’ve recovered your gusto a little, you start to be productive. Things get done. You write a sentence and think ‘Damn that’s a mighty fine piece of scientific work.’ Then you carry on. I got down 500 words of referenced scientific sounding stuff for my lit review in an hour that I didn’t really know about previously. I didn’t even get 500 words over the past 1.5 days of work.
The difference? I got interested again. I started seeing the relevance, the hole in the research that I was going to fill. The things I needed to know clicked together and danced merrily on the page. I identified some gaps in my plan, I thought over some problems.
I also started talking to people about how they’re feeling- everyone goes through PhD hatred phases. Everyone burns out, falls out with supervisors, breaks models, breaks code, breaks physics. But everyone’s stuff matters.
It does matter. I feel motivated, I want to learn, and I’ve not had this feeling since pre-GCSE. There’s no grades yet, and it’s pass, kinda pass or fail. I can deal with that.
You have no power here marking schemes.
And I’m also hungry.
That means I’ve actually been thinking.
5 hours later and I’m running from email rain this time, with the work I’ve done being ripped away to be replaced with a ticking time bomb of supervisor demanded work.
7 hours later, I’m thinking about what I’m doing and smiling.
I’m also hungry again.
Back to the procrastination.
Back to the food soon- I’ll be updating a few blogs with clearer instructions.