Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The PhD: Year One

This February (today, in fact!) marks a year since I started my thesis. This is both a scary and wonderful thing. On the one hand, this means I'm going to have my first thesis advisory panel soon. On the other hand, I'm now far enough into research that everything isn't new and scary.

Perhaps in a year or two, I'll be able to put these last 12 months into a grander narrative that I can describe more eloquently. For now, all I have is scattered reflections.


What is surprising is how many opportunities there are, and how socially-acceptable it is to take advantage of them. For some reason - don't ask me why - I had this idea that your first year should be spent toiling in obscurity. After that, your supervisor might suggest giving a paper at a conference, or maybe some teaching. But the reality is different, and I've been lucky enough to get involved in all sorts of things: tutoring, conferences, outreach projects, internships. These things aren't directly related to my research, but they're as much a part of this experience as my writing.

Impostor syndrome (much like the real troubles in your life) is something that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. That is to say that - for me - it isn't constant. Usually, I manage to be quite pragmatic. But then suddenly it hits me like the mental equivalent of being smacked in the side of the head. I'm thrown off balance by the insidious, insistent little voice that says what the hell do you think you're doing? The first time this happened, I thought my confidence must just have been bravado, that it was gone for good. But even though I know these moments don't last it doesn't make it less scary.

Finally, I've remembered that feeling stupid is a good thing. The last year has very much been one of building up a baseline of knowledge and getting a general view of the area around my manuscript. Now that I'm moving beyond that, I feel much more intimidated. I've been reading about microeconomics recently. Maths and sciences never made intuitive sense the way textual study does to me, and so I've spent most of January feeling wretched. Until I realised: this is how I felt for most of my undergraduate degree. That is to say, this is how I felt during the most educational, informative, outlook-altering three years of my life. I still have no idea if January will end up being a wasted month of research. But even if it does, it will have had its own value.

One year down; 5 to go.

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