If words were miles I’d have crossed the world by now…

At this time of year, when colleagues are applying for staff development funding to do postgraduate research, I look back on how far I’ve come on my own PhD journey. If words were miles I’d have crossed the world by now.  But they’re not. In the PhD landcape I haven’t gone very far.

The vastness is unimaginable. Every layer brings reading of a scary proportions. Like dreams with too much to fit in the suitcase, a new PhD seems uncontainable. You have to learn to live with overspill. Books on the floor. Papers in the bedroom.  Hard drives get confused. Dropbox overflows.  All topics of conversation are miraculously related back to your research topic or some quirk in a paper you’ve read which resonates. You can’t get it out of your head. It needs to be shared.  Like a martini. Any time, any place, anywhere. While everyone else has a life, you only have an uncompleted PhD future.

To anyone starting doctoral research part-time be warned, you will regret it – and unless the subject is close up and personal, you’re unlikely to complete. Strategic management of time and subject is your only hope for survival.  Focus, motivation, incentive and very understanding family, friends and colleagues are essential. The PhD will move in. Take over. Your head will have two compartments. One work. One PhD. Everything else will be evicted or move out on its own accord.  Think of it like a partner – always there but sulking in the corner because you’re not paying attention.

Like a dog, a PhD is not for Christmas, it’s for life and August is the cruellest month. The end of July is full of colleague-speak about time off;  vacations/staycations or chill. The start of September is review and reflect on said time off.  August is miserable. August has become the busiest month. VLE upgrade, Getting Started and TELEDA eportfolio submissions all arrive together. There is much work to be done.

I don’t research well at work. I prefer the home office. Getting on the read-think-write cycle without encountering real world distractions.  Did I say a PhD is the most anti-social of occupations? The problem is the process of engagement is cumulative. When the going gets tough (is it ever any different?) it can take days to get your head in the right place. It’s a cognitive thing. Fitting the world inside a brain the size of a grapefruit is hard work. There is never enough time. Never enough of the right time.  Which is where this post began. Time and distance travelled. Not enough of either. I should be chasing my still elusive theories rather than blogging…

When people tell you part-time is tough they’re not exaggerating. The chances are they’re not even being tough enough. The only way to find out what it’s really like is to do it. But there is hope. In spite of the ever-increasing circles, setbacks and frustrations, I know it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. When you read something which resonates or talk to people who care about the same things it reinforces your sense of purpose. Get the power balance right and doctoral research offers real opportunities for advocacy and working towards sustainable change. It really is about being what you want to see in the world. A PhD is one way to experience this. So good luck. Because you’ll need it and I hope you also have a fantastic journey getting there. Just don’t wear a pedometer.


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