I’ve only just started on this bizarre journey of discovery, otherwise known as the PhD, and even though I’m only a month back into full-time study I’ve noticed that I tend to do my shopping, use the gym, and drink in coffee shops with those who have a free bus pass.
Don’t misunderstand me: this isn’t a complaint! I very much enjoy the lack of social pressure in my Pilates class, especially as this is the first time in my life I have ever been inside a gym voluntarily. No, living alongside those who are substantially more experienced than myself does not make me throw my arms up in horror, but what it does do is make one feel alien when confronted with “the real world”.
First there is the guilt; the feeling that you are somehow lazy/under ambitious and really should have sought a more socially responsible profession. Why was I not content to slog it out administering a charity? Should I have chosen the sciences over the arts and be conducting medical research? Why am I not helping vulnerable women through the messy and life-giving work of midwifery? My hands don’t seem nearly dirty enough. This is a feeling that is mildly exacerbated by the presence of my wonderful husband, who cannot sit still and think without feeling a need to be doing something, and has led me to this discovery: it’s incredibly hard to look like you are working hard when you are simply thinking. How on earth can you quantify it? Yet, it is somehow incredibly tiring.
Second are the new difficulties encountered when asked the question: ‘what do you do?’. The main problem with this is not the question itself, but the follow-up of ‘Oh, so what’s that about then?’. My intense unease may be simply that I am doing a PhD in Classics, which often gets confused with music or so-called ‘classical’ English literature. It may also cause panic as I am still very much defining my research (I presume this will be the case for the next three years!) and so am constantly confronted with this truth: I don’t really know what I’m doing.
Thirdly, there is the lack of financial stability compared to your peers. Now is the time when friends are buying houses, having babies, and building an investment portfolio. I, on the other hand, am working out whether I can afford a new Macbook (answer: no).
So what can be done? well a quick peruse of the web has come up with some great resources that make the isolation more bearable, particularly The Thesis Wispherer and phd comics. The former is brilliant advice and the latter is brilliant relief. My only other tactic is going to be embracing the strangeness of my days and trying to chart my course (and progress) on this blog.
All of this is just a way of getting some more space in my brain for a crash-course in modern philosophy alongside the revision of three years of neglected Latin, but I hope that something may have resonated with you. Now, I best get back to looking productive whilst thinking (ideas on a postcard, please)