Doing a PhD (and the aftermath): a survivor’s story

Anonymous contributor

It is some year in the ’90s, perhaps even 1999. I don’t party like it’s 1999. I have no idea what to do with my life. I start a PhD. I have no idea what to do with my PhD. I have no ideas, full-stop. I smoke lots, eat little, and write nothing. My supervisors are brilliant; in fact, they are way too brilliant, and I am intimidated out of my mind. I smoke another cigarette. That will surely get my thesis done.

The year is very possibly 2000. I have fallen in love etc etc. I have no idea what to do with my PhD. My supervisors are helpful and engaged; they spend hours trying to help me to craft my ideas. I have no ideas, so instead I spend hours trying to craft other people’s ideas. I make their words into my words, and smoke.

The year might be 2001. The world is going insane. I still have no ideas, but now I have some words. I make more words. I speak at a conference and it is a Traumatising Experience. The next one is even worse. I make more words, and tell other people about my words, and then we talk about the words some more. I realise that a PhD is just ‘falling with style’, but with words.

The year is probably 2002. It is over – I have written it, submitted it, and survived the viva. I am sucked into a vortex of despair. I have been living my life on a when/then basis (‘when X, then Y’). It sucks. I need to reboot. But first I need to rewrite my entire damn thesis. When I’ve done that, then I’ll reboot.

The year could in all honesty be 2003. My CV lists that I must have turned my PhD into a book but my brain is apparently blocking out the memory in self-defence.

The year is in all likelihood 2005. I have got an academic job. *dry-heaving sobs of panic*. 

The year might actually be 2008. I discover feminist theory. The world starts to shift in unbelievably exciting ways and I begin to endlessly bore people around me about various epiphanies. This habit does not stop.

The year is 2015. To quote my friend, I ‘adult all over the place’ relentlessly. I have gone from having time (but no ideas) to ideas (but no time). I supervise research students and constantly forget what it was like to do a PhD. Honestly? It was agony. From start to finish. But if I’d started with the feminist theory? Then it just could have been heaven.

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