I’ve been at Rhodes University this week for Doc week, a chance for PhD students enrolled in Higher Education (HE) Studies to share their ideas, their research and, as I have realized, their anxieties around their work. I am much comforted to know that most students seem to be finding the process challenging. Whether they, like me, are right at the start of the process and struggling to find a focus for their work, figuring out how to approach a mountain of data, or grappling with the theory, it seems that this PhD beast is a tough one to tame.
It’s interesting being at the beginning of a PhD journey and seeing people who are so much further than me and knowing that’s where I will be going. I imagine it’s a bit like being at the start of a mammoth mountain hike and seeing people wave down from miles above. Whether they’re smiling or sobbing, I know it’s a trip I’ll be taking.
Yesterday, each student had ten minutes to talk about their research. Many of the theorists people talk about – sound like random names from the phone book. Major analytical tools mentioned over and over again – scary acronyms with no meaning. Knowing nods from the rest of the audience – intimidating to the max.
But I suppose I’ll get there. I look at this group of students and think – if they can do it, why shouldn’t I be able to? And I realize that there’s so much “I” in this process. (Hence my notion of the iPhD!). There’s the “Am I capable?”; “Am I smart enough?”; “Can I succeed in this journey?”; “Do I have it in me to pull this off?”
I bet there’s plenty of research about the emotional and psychological aspects of being a PhD student. Due to the length of my own current reading list, I’m unlikely to ever tackle it! However, from my short experience so far, I’m sure that as well as generating new knowledge in your chosen field, a PhD forces you to generate new knowledge about yourself.
So wish me luck as I lace up my hiking boots, do some perfunctory stretches, and set off on this journey. I think it’s gonna be a biggie.