Messiness and the Struggle for Air

I’ve found myself reflecting a number of times on a post written by my friend Mark a couple of weeks ago.  I was particularly taken by its openness.  I have another, anonymous blog which I occasionally use for the thoughts that feel too personal to put here.  There’s nothing controversial or extreme, but it’s interesting that I’ve felt the need to segregate that content.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly why I started the secret blog habit, although it most likely stems from being in the job market at the time.  Show no ‘weakness’, don’t rock the boat and all that.

Mark’s post and my subsequent introspection coincides with the start of my 10th year of being a PhD student.  I feel absolutely no satisfaction about this milestone (millstone?).  Disbelief, yes.  Frustration, most definitely.  But I don’t wear the duration of my PhD efforts as a badge of honour.  It’s an exhausting and isolating experience.  My daughter moves to secondary school this year and, for as long as she has been aware of it, has had to share me with my studies in the evenings and sometimes at weekends.  My son wasn’t even born when I started the PhD and he’s not a particularly young child any more.  The irony is that by refusing to compromise family life for the PhD, the PhD has probably dragged on and compromised family life for longer than it needed to.

It’s all very messy.  I’m thinking of Russell Ackoff when I use that word, in the sense that  I can’t isolate the PhD delay as a problem because it sits in a web of interconnected issues.  This evening, after an unplanned week away from the PhD because of the latest unexpected trauma, I found opened up my thesis to-do list.  It’s not that long any more, but some of the items are each going to need at least a few uninterrupted hours (ha!) to deal with properly.  I’ve reached the stage where chipping away for half an hour or an hour each day isn’t good enough.  Not to mention that there are so many other things that demand hours of my day.

This is a particularly frustrating feeling, since I’m working on what I’ve agreed with my supervisor will be the final draft of my thesis before submission.  If I fix this latest list then I’m good to go.  If I had a week with nothing else to do (ha! again) then I think I could wrap it up.  If I didn’t have two new teaching modules to keep one week ahead of, or four days a week teaching this semester, or projects to supervise, or personal tutees to keep up with, or professional courses to finish, or certifications to update, or this, or that, or the other (and that’s just the work stuff) then it wouldn’t take me long at all.

I’m going to borrow the final word from Mark’s post…








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