PhD Fraud #04: The Escapist


Massively stuck in a rut at the moment. This comes after an awesome week at Farnborough International Airshow last week, which was awesome for many, many reasons: notably awesome company, awesome stuff to see, rewarding engagement with the public and it not being my PhD. So, after a week of mega Highs, I’ve had a week of mega Lows and another inevitable look into the mirror at who I am and what I’m doing.

At the moment, I just want to Escape. Where to? Pfft, anywhere. Last week was kind of like the most magical Escape ever, what with working an 80-or so hour week with Farnborough and the Headstart Design Triathlon, since not only were both of them super-fun but also I didn’t really have time to stop and think about my problems or worries. Skip forward a week, and things are the complete opposite: sure, life is a rollercoaster and has ups and downs, blah blah blah, but usually they’re rarely this violent or placed so close together. I’d just love to run away somewhere and hide out for an indefinite amount of time; barricade myself in a fortress of pillows in a long-forgotten cave and sleep away eternity. Running away from problems, though, is rarely a viable solution, but it seems too tiring and depleting to tackle them head-on right now: I just don’t have the energy or willpower to fight them, so retreating to a completely comatose state devoid of feelings sounds almost like heaven right now. It’s all just too much, and I’m feeling hugely overwhelmed with Life in general.

Also following such a busy week of meeting and talking to so, so many people, the return back to everyday life makes me feel so alone. Maybe it’s my brain trying to do the Escaping for me; shutting out everything and everyone in an attempt to wish my problems away. This sort of thing is normal service, bottling up the troubles and keeping out everyone who might try to tinker with them. It’s always been this way, and I’m not sure I know an alternative. There are some people I can talk freely and openly to (oddly enough, not even necessarily those I’ve known for a long time) but every so often the barrier opens enough to let someone in, to actually forge a real bond or connection. Meeting new people is always a constant strain: I’m always worried about how I come across, or trying so hard for others to ‘like’ me rather than just being myself. It’s when the blockade is truly disengaged that I make the best friendships, when I’m not pressurising myself to be the most likeable, talented or attractive homo sapien in existence, but just being content with presenting myself as I really am. There’s a great part from the end of The Ataris – The Hero Dies in this One that sums that all up pretty nicely: “The hardest part isn’t finding who we need to be, it’s being content with who you are.

The PhD locomotive has slowed to an almost halt at the moment, and it’s almost impossible to either built up enough momentum to get through the day, or to maintain concentration for more the fifteen minutes before the inevitable desire to do anything else at all overwhelms. My work feels so unfinished, and so useless, and my energy stores are so empty that I don’t have the facilities to do anything about it. I came into my PhD fresh with enthusiasm, and ideals of creating or developing something that I could be proud of in three years’ time: what little I feel like I’ve achieved barely even classifies as something ‘new’. I’m disillusioned, dispirited and despaired with myself and my abilities. I don’t feel like I deserve a PhD at this stage, to be honest. And that’s pretty demoralising: I don’t think I’ve made enough of an impact to obtain a doctoral qualification yet, and the worry is that it’s still a long way off. Sure, supervisors are encouraging and hint that I’m being pessimistic, but it’s a constant battle with my own confidence. Then again, do I even care any more? If I finish my thesis and get rejected for a PhD but make it out with an MPhil, is that so bad? For many, coming out with an MPhil is worse than not bothering in the first place, but what difference does it really make in the end? Applying for jobs or a career is subjective (on the part of the employer) anyway, so if I’m looking to head into industry, those 3-4 years of research struggle probably tell a bigger story about my commitment and perserverence in the face of adversity than about my failure to obtain a full doctorate.

Good news? Well, there is some. Turns out that, as part of the University of Southampton Roadshow, I’m going to be representing our research group at Bestival, and in order to get extra tickets so one other from my group can come, I volunteered to give a half-hour talk in the ‘Bestiversity’ zone of the festival or a rolling daily schedule. So yeah, I’m playing Bestival. Stressing my balls off about it at the moment, but if I can nail it then it should be pretty fun and also a massive thing for both my confidence and CV. Plus, while I’m not au fait with much of the line-up (I don’t think Bestival is really aimed at me), I will relish the opportunity to see Justice live, plus there’s New Order, Gary Numan, Kavinsky and maybe Nero to go watch as well. Just need to whip a half-hour talk into shape in less than six weeks, is all…

Anyway, I’ve probably vented for long enough.  I feel a little bit better for doing so, but if you’ve read this far down the post, you have to promise to do me a favour. Next time you ask me how I am, if I respond with “I’m fine,” don’t believe me. Keep asking me, because eventually I’ll break and explain the issues with the kind of gravity that they have rather than trying to brush them off. Things feel dark for me at the moment, but only because they were so light so long ago; and I’d like to recapture those photons and feel as energised as I did last week. I can’t run away from problems and I can’t keep them stored up forever. Open me up, and let the light in.


4 thoughts on “PhD Fraud #04: The Escapist

  1. Hah, I could swear you overheard the conversation I’ve been having with my uni friends this week 😉 My supervisors gave me talking to on Monday and said they were worried about my progress. They also asked if I still wanted to finish or whether I would rather write up what I’ve done and get an MPhil. So I thought I was pretty much going to have to quit or be told to pay fees. I feel a bit more hopeful about it now.

    Anyhow, I considered the pros and cons of getting an Mphil instead of PhD…I’d consider it a failure to settle with an MPhil or to have to pay fees to finish. I’d also feel like I’d wasted 4 years of my life for no reason. I’d also feel ashamed in front of my parents and peers…so I realised I definitely have to finish.

    As far as going away goes, I wasn’t really enjoying my PhD last year and I thought my poster and my work was shit. I went to a conference in Florida and expected to only get negative feedback on my work…but actually loads of people wanted to talk to me. I also made loads of friends and found it really easy to fit in. Going to conferences like that just feels so right and leaves you on a mega high. That’s what I imagined it would be like for the greater proportion of the time during the PhD. It’s nice to talk to other people who are enthusiastic and have ideas, it’s exciting. When I came back from Florida I just felt really miserable though!

    As for Bestival, I’ve been twice and it was good both times as there is a good variety of music. This year I don’t know most of the stuff on the lineup and will have to spend a while on YouTube to check that I don’t miss out on anything good! I think I might just spend time in the smaller tents, or chilling out somewhere, even reading a book! I hope it’s sunny.

    Oh yeah, my other point was that I’m convinced that if I do finish my PhD I’ll still consider it a failure because I haven’t done my best and I’ve had to rely on a lot of people helping me out or hitting me with a stick (metaphorically) to get me to actually do some work.

    I figure that both me and my supervisors made a mistake though; I’m very capable of doing a lot of things, but I’m not an academic and I don’t think I’m the typical choice for a PhD student. I guess it’s always a risk committing to something so challenging that takes up such a lot of time!

    When I’m feeling miserable I like to ‘CBT’ myself, like write a list of things I like doing, and realise I do actually enjoy things, watch a film that I find inspiring, look at photos of my friends to feel nostalgic and remember that loads there will be loads of awesome times in the future…after PhD doom has ended 😉

    • zinar7 says:

      You fancy meeting up for lunch or something this week? Alas I have a cold or something at the moment and after working a 10-hour shift for graduation, I didn’t feel up to going out last night.

      We can have a good ol’ bitch about projects and PhDs and stuff. Let me know what days you’re free.

  2. Sure! I’m free every day apart from Friday (which is the Roadshow meeting)

    • zinar7 says:

      Okeydoke. I’m the same this week, we could do Monday or Tuesday lunchtime? Maybe it’ll be sunny and we can go out onto one of the grassy bits!

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