June 16, 2024

The PHD Elephant in the Room

In a great blog post today called How not to be an Academic Asshole during COVID the amazing Inger Mewburn of @thesiswhisperer fame (btw who I am very proud to be a patreon supporter of ) talks about the prevelance of ‘Toxic Positivity ; not showing weakness and pretending everything is ok when its really not’ in the academic world , and that this can stop people from admitting that they are struggling with things.

Inger is completely open and honest about her own struggles in many of her posts but this one really struck a chord with me …well worth a read.

I remember at one of our residential courses, the lovely Brett Bligh gave us a presentation where he asked each one of us to think about why we were doing a PHD… I didn’t really have an answer then and a couple of years down the line I’m not really sure I have an answer of much substance now !

When I started my PhD in 2017 after two Masters, a degree and a couple of other bits and bobs, I was convinced I probably would’t get through the first year and that as it was a modular based course, it would at least give me some PhD level modules to ‘bank’ and probably run away with. That didn’t happen and by some miracle I am still hanging on by my fingernails.

I struggle constantly with nagging worries about whether I should be doing this flipping thing in the first place … whether I am smart enough, whether what I am doing is ‘worthwhile’ , whether I can continue to justify the time, cost and pressure that this puts not only on myself, but also on the ones I love … sometimes I just don’t know anymore.

Now I’m not saying I think I want to quit, ..but I am certainly saying that I am finding it soooo hard. I am often scared of admitting this but having read Inger’s post I am hoping admitting that I am struggling with things is half of the battle.

I’m really not sure that I have what it takes to get to the end of this thing but I am at the moment still on this journey. I had some time out last year only to return and then find we were about to go head first into a global pandemic. However despite some pretty regular wobbles when the usual imposter syndrome creeps up, I am still chugging along.

Inger talks about a recent survey from the University of Sydney that found that nearly half of PhD students are contemplating leaving their studies in the next six months … NEARLY HALF ! As you can see from her tweet there were a lot of people that read it and it clearly resonated with loads of people .. although this is a worrying statistic it its strangely comforting for me in that I feel slightly less alone now …

The elephant is always in the room

Inger reminds us that we are all vulnerable in terms of suffering from poor mental health and that while we seem to be comfortable with talking about Student mental health , we ‘rarely turn the spotlight on academics who teach and mentor them ‘.

This provides more justification for what I am hoping to look at in my PhD in terms of emotional support for educators during and beyond COVID19 and how open practice and personal learning networks can provide a vehicle for this.

Inger has provided some great links at the bottom of her blog post that are really useful .. she also always comes up with some catchy titles such as ‘ Should you quit (go part time or pause) your PhD during Covid‘ and ‘The valley of deep Covid Shit‘ and my personal favourite ‘Academic Assholes and the Circle of Niceness

If you are doing a PhD and haven’t already found Inger ( are you living under a rock ?) you can follow her on twitter @thesiswhisperer and her blog at https://thesiswhisperer.com/

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