Yesterday I did absolutely no work on my PhD.

At all.

I mean, usually I’ll at least make the effort to open one of my draft documents and stare at it for a while, willing myself to write something, even if it’s just a sentence or two, or I’ll read some papers from my literature folder and will myself to come up with some amazing new research idea. But yesterday I did nothing at all. I spent the morning bumming around on the internet, wandering aimlessly from one site to another, just looking at different things out of curiosity. Then I had lunch. After lunch I was exhausted from doing so much nothing all morning, so I napped for about 4 hours. Then I spent a couple hours reading a humorous self-help book (I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, And Doggone It, People Like Me!, by Stuart Smalley, but really by Al Franken – a brilliant collection of pick-me-up diary entries). Then I had dinner. After dinner, I watched Ellen, Jay Leno, and Conan. Then I went to bed.

And all through the day I couldn’t believe how exhausted I felt by having done nothing. It’s like I’ve been without inspiration for my PhD for so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have that get-up-and-go attitude towards my work. Right now I’m in a place that’s eerily quiet, except for my own inner voice telling me that hope seems to be fading, and misty that I cannot even see what’s around me.

And the one thing that’s constantly in my mind, day and night, is that I want to, have to, submit in May; that there is so much work still to be done; and that I have absolutely no idea how to do it.

Yes, this is me, the one who used to work 85-hour weeks on my PhD, enthusiastically planning studies, writing up papers, and dreaming about the next conference in my diary. Well, OK, I still work 85-hour weeks, but most of those hours are spent worrying about my PhD rather than actually doing anything productive.

Where O where did that energetic young lass go!? I feel like I’m a decade older than I am. I guess PhDs age you, like wine. I’m just not sure the result is as sought-after. Hmm…

Yes. Today I blog from the quiet, misty depths of complete, unadultered inspirationlessness.

I have an ideal ‘me’ in my mind I’d like to be. In those inspirational Hollywood films where a protagonist struggles and struggles, and then finally finds a way to succeed. In those time-lapse montages they have, of the protagonist working away, diligently, with intense concentration, we get lost in the soundtrack of slow, yet fast-forwarded progress. In Misery, the trapped Paul Sheldon sits at his typewriter, tapping away tirelessly at the keys, churning out page after page of work, stretching, grimacing, straining his neck, churning out more pages. Eventually, he finishes the book.

Mine is still hopelessly at its beginning.

I guess I’m blogging about this because I feel better blogging than not doing anything at all. At least this gives me half a chance to reflect on how I feel and what I think, and maybe, how I could find a way to get out of this annoying ditch.

I really just want to get out!

Here are some of the strategies I’ve tried:

  • Constructing those tables that list every section and subsection of a given thesis chapter, their main argument, the lesser points within that argument, and the evidence to be cited there in;
  • Just free writing without any planning;
  • Writing in a casual style as if I were explaining the material to an interested lay person;
  • Typing on the computer;
  • Writing with pen and paper, old school;
  • Writing at my desk;
  • Writing on the balcony with a sea view;
  • Writing in my journal randomly, alternating at will between my PhD, life, and my PhD again.

Annoyingly, none of the above has worked lastingly, and I just don’t feel I have produced as much work to as high a standard as I could or should have. I feel I’ve been mucking around, without a clear goal in mind, except that I want to finish my PhD, and that I haven’t really been doing much to achieve that.

Just like the grass always looks greener on the neighbour’s side of the fence, I guess everyone else’s PhD looks better from here compared to mine. And as much as I know it’s a misconception, it really does seem like everyone else has better ideas, is doing better research, has published more papers, is writing more words, paragraphs, and chapters, and is just generally more worthwhile than I am as a researcher.

So there.

Now, I know that’s not true. I know, and believe, that we – all PhD students – are about as good as each other. That’s why there are generally fewer classification systems for doctorates than there are for, say, undergraduate or Masters degrees: Because it’s generally accepted that whoever is smart enough to start a PhD in the first place, be fired with enthusiasm for it, keep working on it diligently even after that enthusiasm fades, endure the late nights, early mornings, all-nighters, cracked knuckles, sprained spines, throbbing eyeballs, splitting migraines, and aching wrists that come with the job, take the criticism, defy the marking-undergraduate-papers-induced insanity, write the thesis, and somehow make it to the viva alive, will get their PhD, and there isn’t really much point in classifying different levels of PhDs.

So where am I going with all of this?

Well, I have no idea. That’s what I love about blogging – it’s perfectly acceptable to have no idea what you’re trying to say. Unlike writing your thesis. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

From the quiet misty depths of inspirationlessness, signing off now.

Peace.

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