Slaying the PhD monster via Resilience Practices
My school - GCAS College Dublin - has a community conversation board for researchers and staff, on which I recently posted the following angst-ridden plea for sympathetic understanding:
Is it normal to experience continual crises of context confusion in the PhD research process? I ask because it’s happening to me daily… sometimes hourly. My mind is being blown by the weight of (a) lack of prior research into areas that I feel are essential to field development, (b) the enormous body of existing empirical proof that is not being employed to alleviate suffering, (c) being hijacked by crazy cool rabbit trails, and (d) a dreadful feeling that I’m not smart enough to write on the topic. I sincerely hope I’m not alone in this. I hope it’s temporary. I hope I can make sense of my context in a way that helps children to help themselves.
A while after posting this question, and after receiving encouraging and insightful responses to my context-crisis plea, I had a flash of insight. But… it was scary. Really f***ing scary because I realized that I was going to do it – with or without my school. I thought about it for a long while before writing a private message to my advisers asking:
As I go back through the first part of my first chapter, I am realizing that my personal voice/style of writing - both literary and in re advocacy/activism - is quite possibly my most valuable asset in communication. Much more so than public speaking or community advocacy/activism.
Is it possible to write and publish a memoir style dissertation? Weaving in the methodology and research sources? Have either of you heard of anyone doing this? I feel like it’s akin to writing a novel as a PhD project - but creative nonfiction instead. I believe this may be the most effective way to make a case for wide use of bibliotherapy & biblioactivism (I may have invented this word) for and to children & teens.
Almost immediately I received the emphatic reply from Creston Davis, the college Chancellor:
Yes! (Well… not exactly Yes!) === but rather, This is a wonderful idea and I’ve read some dissertations that take on this style. It’s a question about how the style is deployed and managed, but in general terms yes that kind of writing would be welcomed as it helps breakout of the jargon that so permeates PhD dissertations.
OMG, huge relief and happy tears. Tears? Yep. Also some jumping up and down. There exists quite a bit of data on the insanity of PhDs researchers during dissertation writing process. I wonder, are PhDs are super sensitive to begin with? Or, is it the isolation of the work itself? Maybe the expectation of having to write a dry, emotionless book as causal in these crises? (Ok, I’m exaggerating on that last one, but how else can I ~ a creative writer ~ “prove my point” without using my own persuasive voice?)
Could part of the crazy-making aspect of research and writing be that so many of us are laboring with little to no money and with little expectation of being able to pay off our monstrous student loans? Is it the vocational aspect of researching? I suspect that most of us are driven by a deeply held suspicion that our research context has the potential to be universally life-saving. Perhaps the hope of communicating our research findings ~ past the ephemera of tweet-worthiness and into the world with a helpful and lasting result? This is certainly case for me. Is it that some researchers are forced to write on a dry topic, pre-chosen (and thus likely to be uninteresting) for us, by attention grabbing advisers who hope academic international fame more than anything else? Bah (as my daughter used to say when confronted with absurdity) ~~~ that’s the writer’s version of rock-rolling ne Sisyphus. <= And the inevitable self-doubting-ness over whether or not we have used “ne” correctly… [rock-rolling indeed] =>
For today I’ll use my SuperBetter app to remind me to go outside and walk for an hour and to drink water. I’ll continue to lead Laughter Yoga at a neighborhood spiritual center even when I don’t feel like it. I’ll make a point to contact one neighbor, friend, or family member (in person) every single day. I will play with my grandkids. I will be grateful for a home, enough food, and encouragement from my family and friends on this journey. I will practice self-compassion when I experience doubt. I will stay the course.
And when I’m done? After my work is published? I’ll use my newly achieved Golden Scholar age status to take free art classes at the University up the street. I’ll take the kiddos fishing more often. I’ll write only fiction.