Thursday 23 May 2019

PhD Doubts… (“an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness”. Gustave Flaubert)

 Doubts will give you constant heartbreaks
sleepless nights,
and mood swings too.

The PhD is no easy feat. We know that now. If you think reading 3 to 5 books or even 7 to 19 or about 10 plus journal articles or even more than that makes you a star, think twice, thrice and think many times over.

All that reading will get you to write a whole lot of stuff.

You will be glorifying yourself as you write all that you have recently absorbed. You will feign upon yourself the fact that you are advancing a never thought about argument, only later when revising the draft will you wonder upon why you had so much zeal coming up with nothing that adds to the growth of your PhD.

Or someone (someone senior, your professor friend or post grad) will read it and will ask you:

Why is this section here? It should have been discussed under your conceptual chapter’,
‘Why have you in detail engaged with these norms? They contribute nothing to originality’
or further still,
‘I don’t see the point you are trying to make’.

Feedback that breaks your heart
but is necessary
to clip out your weeds

This feedback will break your heart because you will feel that all your ‘hard work’ and late nights into writing the draft and shunning of all social activities to focus on your writing has been of zero value.

You will start comparing what others are doing and even feel more miserable and will probably cry and deem yourself an unworthy PhD candidate.

However, you must keep telling yourself:

And be gentle with your heart. 

Those at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there. Hard work spotlights the character of people: SOME TURN UP THEIR SLEEVES, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.

Everything along your PhD journey is geared towards your growth

All that information you read and write on, and which cannot be used in your draft, is the foundation you are cementing for yourself.

It’s the information that you need to incubate within yourself before your mind can open towards using it to chart new terrains.

“And let a scholar all earth’s volumes carry, he will be but a walking dictionary: a mere articulate clock”. George Chapman.

Progress is measured through micro, mini, small baby steps. Yes, you read all that material and you put down in writing what you felt was going to benefit your argument. The fact that others gave hard comments on your work and did not praise how amazing your work is, doesn’t mean that what you have striven to accomplish is zero.

It means you need to read more, shuffle the various parts of your drafts internally or across chapters.

Blind men and the elephant syndrome

Doubts are a reflection of the blind men and the elephant syndrome. Since you are unable to see the entire picture (the full draft of your thesis) before you, you are unable to tell how its story is going to flow.

Remember, only when you put together your entire draft will you fully be able to understand what is wrong (if at all) with the thesis and how to fix it. Feedback at each stage therefore doesn’t have to be heart breaking. It should serve as a guide towards improving the first full draft.

Therefore, keep writing and re-writing, editing and re-editing, add and delete paragraphs.

  • You are learning a skill set.
  • You are learning to critic the information before you.
  • You are learning to understand how the information before you can be improved.

Don’t be afraid to call yourself out on ‘bad’ work. When you are able to do that it shows growth on your part. It shows that you are able to improve upon what you already thought was great, to make it better.

“A scholar must not only be capable of hard, OFTEN TOTALLY RESULTLESS WORK – he must actually RELISH IT”. Richard D. Altick.

See the positive merit in everything you do during your PhD journey. It is a reflection of you. Enjoy it. 

Lyla Latif, 2019

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