Doing a PhD is, I think, a bit like doing the Olympic marathon. Perhaps unfortunately, however, I am definitely a sprinter when it comes to producing work and this is probably the reason that my Masters went so well compared to my Doctorate (so far). I have been hoping that the sprint-mentality will kick in soon (I have just over a year to go, which isn’t really very long in PhD terms.)
The shock of the last two weeks has effectively prevented me from working on my thesis and given me a tiny bit of time, in-between everything else, to re-evaluate the whole process.
I realised today that I haven’t really taken a break during the last two years. I don’t mean that I haven’t had holidays (I have) or that I have been doing nothing other than researching and writing (if that were true I would be finished by now!) What I mean is, I haven’t taken any significant period of time, haven’t had any major “head space” away from the PhD. It consumes my thoughts, even if I am away or not working. The main feeling is one of guilt – a negative energy that propels me forward but which feels incredibly gruelling and leads, necessarily, to self-doubt, procrastination and, on occasion, genuine despair. This is not productive, good energy.
Most PhD students experience something similar to this at least occasionally, and most PhD students seem to power through it somehow like a marathon runner powering through cramps or exhaustion. I admire this in the same way that I admired the Olympic runners in the rain in the marathon yesterday. Just watching makes me feel tired! I am not sure how common it is to take a proper “thesis break” – putting away the books, eschewing the library, checking campus email twice a week instead of twenty times a day…
But that is what I will be doing. For a whole month.
This is really a proper break. I will actually be putting the books away. My funding will be suspended and the “timer” that is ticking away the days until my completion date will be stopped. It feels like the Doctor has come in the Tardis and offered me a month travelling in some sort of alternate reality or timeframe. When I wake up every morning in the next month it will (hopefully) be without a feeling of guilt. This might be my only chance to properly rest before the mega-sprint to the finish line which will now be in October/November 2013.
The break was suggested by my supervisory team, backed up by the Director of Postgraduate Studies for my department, with whom I shared the news about the accident, the shock and my need to support my partner at this time. They all agreed that my number one priority should be Hannelie and her family. I am apprehensive about the financial strain that the break would put upon us, but I do feel that now is the right time to do this.
Of course, the PhD isn’t exactly a race, except perhaps against oneself. There are other people running too, but it is not exactly a case of first-past-the-post. I want to finish within the three years I have, and taking a month out doesn’t affect this very much, especially if it helps me regain focus for the rest of the duration.
In a sense, there won’t be much “rest” during this time as energy (physical, emotional and spiritual) will be channeled elsewhere. But I am hoping that alongside everything else, I will gain perspective on this project and how to go about finishing what I have started. I will keep on blogging as and when.
If you are a person who prays, pray for us over the next few weeks. For real rest and preparation for times ahead.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm…”