Doctoral distress and deadline anxiety love company. So I must mention I was slightly relieved to hear from a fellow traveller with this journey she also was having end issues.
To put this in perspective, I’m not speaking about a few legendary PhD slacker who spends the times on a scholarship playing Solitaire on your computer. Although I have heard that they exist…
No, this lady a moved self-starter who presents at conferences around the globe, publishes and educates. When she sends me an email saying that she’s in the last two weeks — and also fearful to count the times — and things aren’t moving as swiftly, or as easily as she would like, I understand that feeling.
Yes, I’m having what she’s having. And that is the panic of the final part of the travel. It’s no more about devising ideas, drafting version of this thesis, studying and commenting on journal articles — it’s not about writing articles or conference papers.
Hell no, this is the true thing. That is panic. That is what sports stars must feel before the race begins.
It has nothing to do with competence; it is all a mind game today, in precisely the exact same manner that writing fiction is truly a mind sport. That is what internationally Best-selling writer Douglas Kennedy must say about it about it:
“Composing is a confidence trick you play on yourself… and yet one that you have to perpetuate on a daily basis.”
I’d recommend reading Kennedy’s blog: “left handed writing, ideal handed thoughts” to get an insight into so many facets of the writing life — optimism tricks, completion, and the fascination with which he observes people and the planet and weaves that into his books. No, he’s not in my own doctoral bibliography — no mutants here, only an acute ability at producing the intricacies of the human condition. Occasionally a little respite in the Gothic is called for….
As for my friend? She reads, “I shall look forward to seeing you all on the opposite side of this PhD, although I could barely imaging what that area might look like!”
I had her trapped for an effortless finish and’m now somewhat relieved I’m not the only one tearing my hair out. Right now, nothing I write sounds profound enough or sounds scholarly enough…yes, it is the inevitable descent into the Valley Of Shit. That is something which Dr Mewburn wrote eloquently in her Thesis Whisper site qualified — The Valley of Shit.
The Thesis Whisperer is a newspaper style blog dedicated to helping research students, and can be edited by Dr Inger Mewburn director of research training at that the ANU.
I fulfilled Inger when she was operating at RMIT and she asked me to contribute some sites to her website, that I was happy to perform — you can read them here.
I’ve got a theory that any moment spent studying The Thesis Whisperer is not procrastination, but really a thinly disguised therapy session….
Inger writes: “There are a few signs you’re entering in the Valley of Shit. You can start to think your whole project is misconceived or you don’t have the ability to do it justice. Or maybe you seriously wonder if what you have done is great enough and get started feeling like what you have found is clear, dull and insignificant.”
Indeed, the photo that accompanies today’s blog was taken on a trip to my father’s village in northern Greece. It appears to sum this up particular state of mind absolutely. Since I cannot talk a word of Greek, the signals did not really help me as we started to trek the mountain. When I have lost, I couldn’t ask for support. That’s what The Valley of Shit feels like — you can see in the signs which you’re there, but you don’t understand what they say, also don’t understand how to get out.
If you also have this smelly place, you simply need to do what I’m doing, and believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe because I’m a fiction writer, I’m well-used to walking through The Valley of Shit, and understand there are three things you can do — don’t lose your nerve, keep on functioning, and believe in your own ability.
Since Douglas Kennedy says about being a novelist: “Actually Once You’ve hit the twenty five per cent mark, are you willing to take the fact that, even when others think you have arrived as a novelist, some genuinely good and serious authors knows one central truth of this calling, this livelihood: you never arrive. You just keep on working.”
That’s right — only keep on functioning. That’s all you can do when you strike The Valley of Shit — take comfort in knowing everyone completing their doctorate probably ends up here, and probably makes out alive. You only need to keep on working.
I’m reminded of a book I used to read my boys when they were small — , by Michael Rosen. I loved this book even more than that they did, as it seemed to sum up the significance of persistence so perfectly. I’d bounce the children in my knee and sing along with the staff on Playschool:
“We’re going on a bear hunt…we are likely to catch a big one. What a beautiful day, we are not scared! Uh oh a river — a deep cold river! We can not go over it, we can not go underneath it — oh no! We have got to really go via it….”
Who wants the philosophy according to Pooh? I’ll take Rosen daily. Very good luck!