Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Lost Student

I love lists.

I love making lists. I love ticking things off my lists. I love putting small things ("Check Bank Balance") as well as big things ("Write Paper") on my list. I love putting things on lists that I've already done just so I can tick them off. You get the picture.

Recently, I had two big tasks nagging me on my To Do list: First Year Report and First Year Viva.

In essence, every year of the English PhD culminates in an approximately 75-100 page report and a defense of that report...including the usual ragging you get from your professors at a thesis defense. As Richard can attest to, I spent 4 cranky, stress-filled weeks straight with no weekends preparing both the report and the viva. How did they end up?

Both. Were. Horrible. We'll cut to the chase...I don't know what I should know at this point, my advisors made that point painfully clear and continued on to bash the two papers I'm working towards publishing, and I ended up sobbing in the bathroom.

This was one of the only times ticking tasks off my To Do list was unfulfilling.

Now I realize that life in the PhD world is not rainbows and ponies (okay...maybe there are ponies in my fairy tale) and that your advisors are put into your life for the cold, harsh reality that is the scientific world, but man this experience broke my confidence. I reacted so strongly (either to my horrible writing or the criticism, or both) that I woke up with the stomach flu the day after my viva. The day after that, I was sent off to summer school in Bristol for a week.

I am not going to lie. My mind was elsewhere in an anxious, self-doubting place. I was seriously questioning my ability to complete a PhD. After our lectures were done each day, I wandered through Bath and Bristol wondering if I could just see the beautiful sights without having to endure the agony of academia. I felt completely lost.

In fact, I'm still not completely sure I'm capable of completing this PhD. I do know a few things about myself though.

  1. I work my hardest and do my best when people don't think I can succeed. Seriously. If you ever want me to do something, just say, "Hey Kelsey, I bet you can't......"
  2. Very few women graduate with PhDs, especially in the sciences. I accept that challenge.
  3. As much as I moan and groan about how tedious and annoying science is, I get immense joy having conversations comparing American, British, and Spanish severe weather...and that passion is what got me here in the first place. So I guess I can't hate the weather that much can I?

So what's the verdict? Well I've already made my next list...
  • Read. Get up to date on the knowledge and blow my advisors out of the water.
  • Work more effectively, play more effectively. That will make me better prepared to work every day and better prepared for my papers, reports, and vivas. And it will make me less cranky when I'm with my friends, family, and boyfriend.
  • Take criticism to mind, not to heart. Note what needs to change and move on.
  • Write a blog post about what I've learned from my viva.

1 comment:

  1. Randy Pausch (CMU) wrote a book before he died called "Last Lecture" where he gives a bunch of advise to his kids. One of the bits was about brick walls that are put up to keep people who don't really want the thing out. It is sort of obvious but skill or talent isn't really enough; the people that should be allowed to do the really great things should really want it too. In other words, desire plus skill makes the right person. Sometimes you have to prove how much you want it by showing that you won't throw in the towel when it gets ugly.

    Of course, seminary was seven years of that crap that backfired on them and me. It made me bitter and angry. Don't be bitter and angry. Even being told that you are very wrong or whatever requires that you step up your the game. Dealing with failure and setbacks positively and professionally is part of playing with the big kids. In other words, proving you belong there means standing your ground and not quitting. If they don't think you are PhD material, make them kick you out. They will if that is really the case but they haven't, have they? Don't blink. Wipe the blood off, throw some dirt on the wound, get back in there, and keep swinging.