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 sob. At 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.
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.
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.
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.