Joyeux PhD

I think it’s about time I update my blog so that people visiting it don’t think I’m STILL trapped under my desk having a good old sobAt the end of my last post, I promised that the emotional rollercoaster experienced while finishing a PhD is just that – there are low points, but some really high ones too.

In the midst of the desk sobbing and not sleeping and tantrum-throwing, there were some piercing moments of, well, overwhelming gratitude. Not for the PhD work itself, no no no, but for everything else in life. Mostly, people. Though I didn’t actually socialise with many friends during those final couple of months, I was very aware of their support, and the fact that they would be at the pub waiting for me, pint in hand, when I finished.

Let me tell you about two such moments that I remember vividly.

One

The first was during my last visit to my home county of Norfolk before the dreaded hand-in day. I was very stressed. I did not want to do anything other than sit at my desk and stare at my thesis, and at the same time, I wanted to be doing ANYTHING else. So I begrudgingly (yes, I was a horrible person at this point) agreed to go for a meal with a big bunch of friends. Now, the majority of my friends have not done a PhD, nor have much experience of academia, if any. And that’s great. I love talking to them about their work, their lives, precisely because many of them are so different to mine. But being the lovely people they are, I knew that they would be bound to ask how my PhD was going in return, not knowing that is the dreaded question for a PhD student, particularly that close to the end. So I was really worried about seeing them, because I didn’t want to snap at them or cry, which were both very likely at that point as I really was on edge.

Then, a wise person suggested I simply message them all beforehand, telling them that I was okay, PhD was going okay but it was due very soon and I was very stressed, and I would really appreciate a few hours not talking about it. Simple, and effective! A few jokey messages passed where they faux-threatened to ask me about my thesis, and I sent a faux-faux-threat suggesting that physical violence was an option, then we met up and had some delicious food and nobody asked me about spiders. Perfect!

So when I left early to go home and work, while they went the the pub, I was sad, but felt both rejuvenated at having had a genuine few hours off, and incredibly grateful that they respected my wishes – which of course they would, because they’re friends. And on hearing that after I left they all asked my boyfriend how I was really doing, I was even more touched. Friends like that are the greatest, truly, and somehow the stress of my PhD made me realise that even more.

Two

When I wrote my thesis acknowledgements, I was super emotional. The physical act of listing all the people who had been of the biggest support to me was just so humbling. People, it turns out, are really really nice. Listing the people of Twitter who helped me with both technical spider queries, and more emotional support, gave me a newfound respect for my fellow humans. Sure, there are shitheads out there, but there are some truly nice selfless people, too. 

And then of course there are all the people close to you who are sort of obliged to be nice and supportive. Like the fact that I probably didn’t cook a dinner for the last 3 months of PhD (thank you, Josh). Or supportive greetings cards that arrived in the post unexpectedly (thank you, Mum). Again, so so grateful for these lovely people.

My thesis acknowledgements: Lovely Twitter people

My thesis acknowledgements: Lovely Twitter people

So also these are both personal examples, I hope they serve to highlight the madness of the rollercoaster that writing up your thesis, and that for every low point there is a high one, too. In the midst of all the angst and stress that finishing a PhD causes, it really does bring into focus the things in life that are most dear to you, for that very reason.

If you’re PhD-ing over this festive period, know that others have been there and it won’t be the case forever. And take some time out to be with the lovely people in your life who will be so so important at the end, no matter whether you’re struggling or if you breeze through.

Joyeux PhD, everyone.

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5 thoughts on “Joyeux PhD

    • Haha thanks! For most people I’d chatted to on Twitter I’ve never actually met them face to face, so putting their real life names just seemed weird! Plus in the PDF of my thesis the Twitter handles are hyperlinked, so readers can go see for themselves what ace people they are 🙂 Thank you! Still got viva to go but the relief of handing in actual books of my work is still very present. You WILL finish 🙂 Good luck!

  1. Hi there,

    I am happy to know that you are done with your PhD – congrats! I had mine on the winter of 2014/2015. It was an awful experience because many random and odd things happened at the time. First, my viva was scheduled for the very last day of activities of Dec, but it had to be postponed for a couple of months because the external examiner couldn’t make it to the airport due to the bad weather of that day. Everything seemed very screwed to me, I was starting a new job in Finland at early Jan of next year (2015). You know, how stressful this situation can be with getting sort it out loads of things before and after moving to a new place. And, this was not the end of everything, I had to do my viva through Skype on early Feb – Oh, woman what a mess! It was probably THE worst day in my life, the gloomy weather and empty sky of Finland was a very good representation of how I had performed during my Viva. Anyways, I did it once more time, but this time I went back to the UK to get it done. So, I completely understand what you are describing in your post.

    BTW, a good friend of mine passed me on a link of one entry that you wrote on the ErrantScience blog. I was so hapy to see that you are reaching new audiences, and starting to make your mark in the blogosphere! I wish you all the best!

    • Hi Angel, thanks very much for your comment and for sharing your experience. Sounds like it was a really tough process for you, I’m sorry to hear that. Glad you got there in the end.

      Thanks for the kind words about ErrantScience – I assume you mean ErrantScience: Clutter? I really need to update this blog to tell people about that, haha! If you want to write for us any time, let me know – we have monthly guest slots 🙂

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