Around a month ago, I received news about a journal paper I submitted nine or so months back: following a significant period of open discussion and peer review, it was “with regret” that the paper “would not be accepted for publication”. I’ve presented papers and oral presentations at conferences before, but this was my first submission to an academic journal, and I’m technically still to have something properly published at this point. As a late-stage thesis student (heck, I’m supposed to be submitting by October, eep) with ever-decreasing time to focus on PhD work, that’s a bit of a concern and it’s been rather difficult to figure out how I dig myself out of the misery-hole. Oddly enough though, despite a brief period of nervousness and dejection, I’m keeping fairly buoyant.
Perhaps I’m just coming to the realisation that, regardless of the quality of my thesis or whether I actually get awarded a PhD or not, all of this will be over by November and I’ll be able to move on with my life. I’ve been doing the same research for four years, and it’s probably not a massive surprise that I’m kind of bored with it. For a long time, I’ve not been able to see an end in sight, and I’ve always felt so far away from any sort of situation that I’d be confident (and happy) enough in my work to submit it for scrutiny. But since I now have a firm, fixed deadline of the 1st October that I must submit my thesis by, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can’t keep going indefinitely, no matter how much more I feel I need to do. There’s no time for al of that ‘extra work’ that I keep thinking I need to do, so all I can realistically do is put together everything I’ve done already and manoeuvre it into some sort of order. At the moment, my efforts are focussed on whipping my thesis into shape and trying to plan what little ‘jobs’ it’s feasible to complete in the remaining few months. There’s no sense getting overly worried about failing, since my fate has largely been decided by this point – if what I have will only give me an MPhil, then so be it; irrespective of the outcome of the viva, I’ll be free to do something else, and I’ll be ready to take on the next challenge. And with that comes a sense of pseudo-closure.
Strangely for an academic (and even more strangely for an engineer), I kind of enjoy the writing process. I certainly find it more satisfying than wandering around in the fog of genuine research: I’ve always enjoyed being creative, particularly in the form of writing, so I quite look forward to exploring the word-space and trying to communicate things in a readable, interesting way. Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to resurrect my passion for creativity as a method of jettisoning some of my extraneous frustrations.
Not so long ago, I used to write a bunch of video game reviews (e.g. Prince of Persia: the Fallen King, Super Paper Mario and No More Heroes) as a method of expressing myself creatively. Even longer ago, I used to play guitar regularly (at least, privately in my own room), but I haven’t practiced regularly for like four years, which correlates almost exactly with starting the Dreaded PhD; I don’t doubt that the two are directly related. Through college and undergraduate stuides, I used to find that bashing away at my Fender Double-Fat Stratocaster at the end of a busy day would dissipate many of the worries and stresses of study and research. It was never to achieve musical stardom or monetary return; the passion was just to play. Quite why expressing myself musically seemed to be so effective for me in ‘killing’ off some of life’s stresses, I’ve never really been able to explain: I kinda always just put it down to the fact that I’m not very good at multi-tasking, so if I’m busy trying to keep up with fast chord changes and remember what note I have to play next, then I can’t possibly be stressing over research work or exam preparation. For whatever reason, this fact has largely been forgotten over the course of my PhD study, so it’s perhaps unfortunate that it’s only sunk in now, when I’m desperately close to wrapping up The Thesis for good.
Anyway, this has highlighted the appearance of a Stratocaster-shaped void in my life that I actively intend to patch up. Over the course of a few months, I’ve tried to re-forge my commitment to guitar-based noodling, although it turns out that four years of very little practice (maybe an hour total a month rather than an hour total every day or two) is not good for keeping your hands and reflexes in shape and it’s surprisingly hard to do even some of the basics. That, and the fact that I’ve probably managed to destroy my fingers and wrists with RSI in the intervening period probably doesn’t help. Either way, the upshot is that I (currently) can’t play at near the same capacity that I used to and that’s kind of a bummer, but hopefully only a short-term issue that can be remedied with just some Dedication and Willpower sprinkled over top.
It’s not like I was ever some kind of guitar virtuoso anyway – my flavour was always rhythm guitar; providing the backing sound for an imaginary set of remaining band members whose roles were never filled. No-one has ever showed me how to play guitar (not even in the days of YouTube tutorials), and everything that I’ve figured out how to do was figured out purely by ear, usually by listening to Green Day songs and trying to play along. For me, this is a very minor source of pride and I’d kind of like to think that I still have some sort of natural talent AT SOMETHING buried deep inside me somewhere; even if it isn’t academic research or scientific fame.
Anyway, I’m hoping that picking up my axe more often will be a positive influence on both Work and Play; even if I do it just for my own ears and not anyone else’s. Heck, if I can’t be a stellar research student with a huge library of publications to his name, then I may as well use that empty library to turn my good mood up to eleven and make one hell of a racket, right? Rock on.