A long time coming

Crikey, it’s somehow been 8 months since my last post on There’s A Spider. So much for making it a regular blog… whoops!

Since I handed in my thesis at the end of October last year, a lot has gone on. I got a full-time (non-academic) job, I had my viva, and I’m still wading through my thesis amends because, frankly, it’s really hard doing it alongside a full-time job.

I also now run a new blog, Clutter, with ErrantScience. It’s about science and scientists and the stories we have to tell. I post there every month, and we also have guest posts once a month. So a lot of my ranting has been happening over there since we started up in March of this year.

I guess the biggest thing PhD-wise was my viva. I wrote about my viva there for my first post. I’m still not sure I’m over it. I know that my viva was not the worst there’s ever been, but I found it really tough. The fact that I’d got a job pretty much straight after handing in meant I wasn’t immersed in the subject every day, and viva prep is inherently quite tricky – it’s difficult to judge what your examiners will pick up on, no matter how much research you do on them.

It was 4ish hours long, I got asked some stuff I could respond to sensibly, and some stuff completely threw me. In short, it did absolutely nothing to help my crippling imposter syndrome, and the congratulations that lovely people sent my way once I announced that somehow I hadn’t failed only exacerbated that feeling. People still call me Doctor now – I have to correct them every time, that I won’t be a Doctor until my amends are handed in and approved, and saying that feels both honest and shameful at the same time – surely I should have succeeded by now?

My thesis amends, a big bunch of to-dos.

Mostly the last few months have been spent adjusting to a ‘normal’ life with job with normal working hours and doing normal life things like seeing friends and going on holiday (which I have spectacularly failed at this year), and fitting the work on my thesis around that, and also failing somewhat at doing that effectively. And then just as I had a lot of time set aside for thesis work, Life of course rears its ugly head in the form of a close relative getting seriously ill, meaning lots of travel to my hometown and generally not being in the mood to care or read or write about spiders (sorry, spiders).

And last weekend, with a free weekend to myself for the first time in months, with all the intention of finally spending a good chunk of time on my thesis, what happens but a mild head cold appears. Not serious, nothing more than a minor annoyance, but with it taking away all desire other than to slob on the sofa. This post (and all the housework I did) is my way of trying to lift the ever-present guilt of not working on my thesis.

Working through that guilt and the constant low-level anxiety is something I hope to describe and explore here over the coming months until this weighty thesis is gone from my life. I can’t promise regular posts, but I can promise honesty in describing this process, and I only hope that those in a similar PhD-Doctor-Limbo situation might find some comfort.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in seeing what I, and some of my fellow scientists have been ranting about, go read some of the posts on Clutter. Oh – and there’s lots of spider cartoons from the wonderful @MCeeP. Enjoy.



The Fear


It’s nighttime. It’s here again. That hard, swirling knot in my chest, tying itself up and up again in endless ways, and me along with it.

The panic, the fear, the guilt. Panic of so much to do. Fearing it won’t, it can’t get done. The guilt at not having done more already.

It hurts, almost. I retreat into my head, trapped in an endless cycle of fear, forceful calm, then hopelessness. My heart is beating fast.

How do you stop it? What makes it go away? I’ve felt it before, many times, but I can’t remember just how and why it ends. I’ve a terrible feeling it’s just… Giving in. Stopping caring so much. How many times can I give in a little and let go, stop worrying, and still produce worthwhile work? How many times can this happen before I give up?

Reading this over in the cold light of day, it seems so dramatic. It’s just a PhD, just a thesis, just one document. How can it cause this much grief? Those who haven’t been through a PhD or similar may not understand – hell, even I don’t really understand. And those who are tough and organised and smart and confident (do these people even exist?) may not relate, either.

It’s subsided now. I feel almost silly for having felt that way, having written those words. Sort of ashamed.

But it’ll come back. And with deadlines looming, I know it’ll get worse before it gets better. I know I can hold on until the end. Push through, get it done. But will ‘it’ be enough? I guess only time will tell.

Also see: Taming Monsters & Fears of Failure 

I Couldn’t Wait To Write My Thesis And Now I Wish I Was Doing Literally Anything Else

Catchy title, eh?

I haven’t written a blog post for ages, so what better time than now, when I’m in the angst and terror of writing up my thesis?

Searching through my draft posts to see if there was something I could conjure up from those, I stumbled upon one from March 2015 entitled “I Can’t Wait To Write My Thesis”. HAH! Not only is that hilarious in itself, it also contained the line “love the idea of sitting and writing everyday – currently my idea of bliss. Sure this will change.” Yes, it damn well will change, Past Me, you moron.

Actually… it’s not changed that much. I still like the idea of sitting down and writing every day. It just doesn’t really happen. I write a bit, I change it, I write a bit more, I change that. I create some data tables, edit some figures. Then I get sidetracked and discover yet another gorgeous font I may or may not use. Usually at this point I leave the house and get annoyed at how lovely being outdoors is, regardless of weather, and return not feeling energised and enthused, as planned, but grumpy and bitter.

So I’ve got <*puts fingers in ears* LA-LA-LA, I can’t hear you!> months until my thesis is due in. Time is really tight. But, I think I’m finally getting to the point where at the end of a day, progress has been made, and I haven’t just written stuff and unwritten it again, or found something wrong with my code or analysis and spent the day fixing that instead.

It’s a really really weird time. I don’t go into work much; I write better from home. It’s lonely. I get absurdly happy when I’m outside the house, and if I manage to make it into a pub I almost weep with delight. It’s nice being on my own time, but there’s so much pressure to be working constantly, as there always is throughout PhDs. But I’ve settled into a kind of manic calm acceptance.

I won’t lie, I’ll be very happy when this is handed in. Or, most likely, I’ll be apathetic, as I’ve heard several people say it’s oddly underwhelming once you finally finish. Of course, handing in isn’t the finish, there’s the viva terror and then however many months of corrections.

So, um… I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is, except to serve as something else to do instead of writing my thesis. And to share the weirdness of these final stages of PhD. I’d be interested to know how everyone else feels at this stage – pop me a line in the comments or tweet me @michelleareeve. Thanks to making it to the end of my thesis-fuelled drivel!

If you liked this post, you should probably be writing your thesis, too. Go on, go!