An anonymous blog post by a current PhD student
For me, the road to a PhD has been an un-chartered one. I’m not sure any PhD research candidate has a clear path laid out before them; after all that’s the point: an unknown path to new knowledge. One begins the journey not knowing the future, not knowing the answers and for some, not even knowing the questions.
This week has comprised of me waking up happy, having slept well, getting up and having breakfast. Once I’ve said goodbye to my partner at the front door, I move up to to my writing desk in the spare room. Sitting at the laptop, I have checked my Twitter, checked my emails and responded to those that require a reply. Then it hits me, what next? I have numerous threads I can follow, countless accumulations of evidence I can analyse but I am always faced with leaving something out; doing one thing negates the other, so I end up dong nothing – paralysed by the options and opportunities. I want to place one foot in front of the other but which one? I sit at the desk for as long as is bearable, which in my case (and past experience) is a long time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have sat for hours before now, not knowing which key on the computer to press next; screen savers can be very hypnotic to a dyslexic.
Eventually, I will move away, switch off the laptop and make some lunch. I haven’t lost my appetite, in fact it’s increased and moving into autumn hasn’t helped, I crave carbs constantly and comfort my soul with bread and cheese (and coleslaw). Once fed, I fall asleep on the sofa. I lay drowsily down until late in the afternoon when my pet nags for its dinner. I’m relieved at having passed the time without stress and look forward to my partners return. Evenings are easier, though my guilt increases until sleepiness saves me.
These paragraphs roughly describe the events of the last four days. It’s taken until now, Friday morning, to move out of the house and out of the cycle of negativity and numbness. I know that I have leisure time ahead of me; I’ll be off the hook for two days, being with my companion and distracted from my task – occupied by leisurely walks and pints in pubs.
Is all this due to dyslexia? I’m unsure. I’ve gotten this far with a disability; it has given me the ability to think outside of everyone else’s box and it has helped me impress those who are deeply contained within it. It’s made me continuously curious, ever hungry for new ways of seeing and strangely brave in the face of ambiguity. However, I’ve always had trouble organising my accumulated thoughts, experiences and reflecting upon their effect. Concentrating often feels like corralling, holding back and laying down parameters upon my imagination causes me dreadful anxiety. Perhaps I just need to be more disciplined? But discipline feels like punishment and that’s the last thing I need right now.
So what do I need? You tell me. I think I really want someone to tell me what to do. But I don’t really. I would rather do it all by myself. But maybe I can’t. I just want to know what to do first and be told that it’s okay to prioritise the activity over something else. I need to get one job done but which one first?
This is a really moving piece of writing. I think that most of us can recognise the struggle with writing and knowing where to start, having probably faced similar issues in our own writing practices. One of our aims in setting up the PGR Studio was to give research students the opportunity to share experiences and to take some comfort in realising that it isn’t just them – research projects may be very individual but the ups and downs of the PhD experience are shared.
There are some great sources of help with writing for your PhD – in particular I’d recommend the blogs patter and the thesis whisperer. There are also texts and a literature out there that some of you might find interesting and helpful. Two of my favourites are Doctoral Writing in the Creative and Performing Arts (Ravelli, Paltridge & Starfield (eds) 2014) and Helping Doctoral Students Write (Kamler and Thomson, 2014 2nd edition). The latter in particular may be aimed at supervisors, but I think students can benefit from it a lot – and why should us supervisors keep the secrets to our selves! You will also find chapters on writing in most PhD student guide books.
We regularly run workshops on Academic Writing and Writing Strategies workshops as part of the PGR Studio programme, so keep an eye on our events noticeboard. You might also want to join one of our Shut Up and Write sessions, normally running on the last Wednesday of each month. Shut Up and Write does what it says on the tin, everyone quietly writes. It is that simple but also so much more than that, take a look at how Thesis Whisperer describes it here. It is a method that works for some, but maybe not for all, why not try it out and see if it suits you?
If you are dyslexic, talk with your supervisors and your Research Degree Coordinator to make sure that you are fully informed of the support that BCU can offer you.
And, importantly, what would you say to our brave student blogger? Please do post comments sharing your own experiences and with advice.