I was once at a conference in London and got to talking to a mid-career researcher from Ireland about the nightmares of PhD life. “Childbirth is easier!” she implored, urging me to ease the pain by working hard and finishing on time.

I’m inclined to take her word for it, as we only had one child between us, and that was her small son.

And it’s true, too. The daily anti-climaxes of doing research, writing, teaching, and (and this is the bulk of it) dealing with a million other mundane errands eventually gives way to a kind of mental sluggishness where you trot along slowly, doing a little work here and there, sometimes feeling unsure if you are really even in the right place, at a university, trying to be a researcher. Writing, rewriting, editing, then realising you still feel dissatisfied with what you’ve written, and then rewriting it from scratch again. Hypotheses being refuted. Experiments going wrong. Papers rejected, software failing, and a general, relentless feeling of disillusionment!

It’s a shame there isn’t a mental epidural for the birth of the thesis.

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