Post submitting PhD thesis

Two nights ago, my entry into sleep was filled with panic and fear. I had become so sedentary in my life throughout and post my PhD that I was gaining weight, feeling tired all the time, my breathing was labored and I had no energy to do anything but sit at my computer and ‘play’ with my eyes glued to a screen. What was I doing with my life? Where was my purpose? I am in a time zone where I have completed and submitted my doctoral thesis, awaiting the results and I have work lined up for next semester as a sessional at my local university. Life could not be better; but why was I feeling so anxious about who I am and what I was doing?

The following day, while sharing a coffee with my neighbor, I made the comment that we were getting up late these days. His reply was that it was natural given that it was the holidays. Over the day, I began to realise that maybe I was not in such a bad place because it was that week between Christmas and New Year where many institutions have shut down.

Last night I took some time to contemplate my fears and anxieties and turned to my cards. I drew the card: ‘Soaring into Joy’: Childlike wonder fills my life.

Celebrating my life joyfully, playing with joy just as a child can is what I need to do at the moment. Berating myself only enhances my fears and anxieties. Throughout last night I dreamed of joy; this morning I woke up singing: ‘I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart – where? Down in my heart…’and I have decided that each and every thing I do today, I will think of joy and allow that to come into my life.

Submitting my PhD was one of the greatest achievements in my life and the ‘waiting-game’ for results and graduation is hard because I have often felt directionless. The reality is I have everything I could possibly want in my life and it is time to celebrate the joy of what I have achieved, the joy of who I have in my life and the joy of who I am.

Latest update

Much has happened since I last wrote!  The publication that I had madly been editing last time, needed more editing.  Writing for publication is incredibly difficult and time consuming.  The end product however, is something to be appreciated.  When I think about the time the three reviewers took to send me quality feedback, the time the special issue editor took to proof my work and then the very detailed editions required by the journal’s chief editor, I am in awe of how much time each of them spent pushing and challenging me to strive for excellence.  Writing may seem to be a solo journey, but around us and beside us are those who teach, mentor, push and challenge.

Most recently I was accepted to attend a Thesis Boot Camp – yes a weekend by the beach on the NSW coastline – writing intensively!  Funnily enough – the only time we get to walk down along the beach is at 7.00am for a walk and half an hour when it is time to pack up to leave.  The rest of the time is taken up with intensive writing sessions.  We are very privileged, though to have Inger Mewburn, the Thesis Whisperer with us.  Dr Mewburn is also the Director of Research Training at ANU.  I am very excited about participating in this weekend, but I must admit, I am feeling anxious about how I will go.  Then I tell myself, well even if I only achieve half of what I had hoped, then I have achieved more than I would staying at home!  Mind you, I do love the place that we are going to – Kioloa.  I went there a couple of years ago in my first year at ANU.  It was beautiful!

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As to writing my thesis, I have taken up the 500 words a day mantra and this month I can report being successful, four days out of the 11.  However, I must admit in that time I have marked 17 undergraduate 1,500 word essays, marked the tutorial discussion board and today I have focused on developing the structure of my thesis and planning for the thesis boot camp. I am feeling rather excited with where I am at with my thesis as I can finally see it taking shape and am feeling confident that I can write a good thesis.  Much of the journey this year has been about facing the thesis itself.  Knowing that I have read enough and committing to writing it up, has been excruciatingly difficult.  It is an emotional and mental battle that has taken a toll, but finally the glimmer of ability to succeed as an academic is beginning to take hold.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What did you have in mind?

Nearly a week later, I have attempted to edit a paper, submitted an abstract to an international conference and been distracted!  Procrastinating again; well that’s what I had assumed.  This morning, however, I woke up asking myself, ‘What is my goal?’  I must confess, I have forgotten.

Earlier this semester when I attending a ‘newbies’ seminar for postgraduate students starting out on their doctoral studies, one point mentioned was to keep an eye on your goal.  At the time I remembered thinking that was a good point because the vision of walking into the graduation ceremony wearing a floppy hat was just not enough to cut it; plus three years down the track it still seemed a long way off.  This morning, however, I am asking myself, what is my goal?  What do I want to achieve?  Why did I set out on this journey to research this topic?  Do I really have to keep writing the same thing over and over again?  Do I really need to find that reference when I know this stuff like the back of my hand?

The answer is yes.  I do need to define my goal and what I want to achieve, if I want it to be of substance.

Maybe falling back on being a procrastinator is really a cop out for not defining or keeping my eye on the goal.  Maybe in part, it is the realisation that I am not going to solve all the problems of the world with my PhD journey, but that I am simply contributing a small plate for tasting to a smorgasbord of knowledge that is already out there.  Maybe my tendency to procrastinate is about losing sight of my goal and what I set out to achieve.  You know to this day, I have still not written the final version of the question for which I am spending all this time researching and writing!  Although, again, as I was going to sleep, a question came to mind.  It was simple and it was obvious, but was it enough?

Initially I was inspired to undertake this research because of a meeting I had with a small group of farming women.  This meeting was held during the first six months of my role at Greater Shepparton City Council where I was employed part-time for six months to work as a Drought Recovery Officer.  During the meeting, one of the women turned to me and said that the problem with my role is that they were tired of helping contract workers to meet key people and access appropriate local knowledge when they were only employed for the short-term and kept changing all the time.  Every time a contract finished, local knowledge and local history for that role was lost.  This was repeated to me on numerous occasions and it made sense.  Also, after each report I wrote for the council about the role of the Drought Recovery Officer, noting that some kind of ongoing rural community development position needed to be created, I felt that there was little to no recognition given to what the people in the region wanted.  My goal for my honor’s thesis and this thesis was to capture some of that history and local knowledge so that it would not be lost forever. Inspiration, however, is only a starting point, although the inspiration of those farming women remains to this day a key driver that keeps me researching and writing.

Today I found a website called ‘James Hayton, PhD‘.  James described an amazing doctoral journey where he ended up writing the final product in just three months.  He had some very interesting things to say about writing and the habit of writing and signing up to his email has provided me with a very interesting ‘Short guide to writing a thesis fast‘.

My aim is to finish this thesis by 1 February 2015 (or as I prefer to say, by the end of the year).  I did like the way James Hayton suggested that in the end the PhD journey was about completing his thesis to the best of his ability and knowing that he submitted work that he was proud of made the journey worthwhile.  For the time being there is merit in that and I am willing to write at a minimum 500 words each day.  Then at least I will achieve a sense of being productive and the fog will start to clear.

journey unclear