The genius to moron spiral

You know what it’s like, you have a flash of inspiration when you’re reading something. You start manically writing out bullet points convinced that you’ve cracked your thesis. And then something happens to burst your joyous research-junkie bubble. It might be moments, hours or days after that initial elation, but something will happen and you’ll be convinced that you have no idea what you’re doing and that you have absolutely no place doing a PhD and what were you thinking?! I’m a moron, why am I even here?

That’s a pretty good summary of my week. I started on Sunday fully in the swing of the research I was doing, planning on writing my 1000 words for the week on that topic by today. I was feeling pretty confident that I could beast my target, maybe even say something smart. I put in some decent hours on Sunday and Monday because I was attending a set of presentations hosted by creative PhD students on the Tuesday. A friend of mine was presenting and her topic is awesome so I went along in support. The day raised some really interesting questions, the most applicable of which for my literature thesis was: how do you balance primary reading and secondary research? Do you attack one and then the other, and if so, in what order? Or do you mix and match, flitting between the two? How do you separate your time? I’ve been concentrating on the theory side of things so far, but I’m beginning to think that I need to get back to reading some primary texts to help reinvigorate my focus.

After the presentations on Tuesday, my friend and I popped to the pub to celebrate how well she did and I finally got around to checking my emails. I failed a piece of work and I need to resubmit it. UGH. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just some official paperwork that we have to hand in to show that we’re actually doing something. To be honest, I knew it was a bit rubbish when I handed it in last term, but I just really thought I’d get away with it. Most of their comments were fair, and about stuff I was already aware of – my project needed more focus, I needed to be more explicit about my research questions. These are things that I’ve been organising over the past couple of weeks, like the thesis plan I’ve mentioned here before. So that’s easy enough to fix and resubmit. But it shook my confidence. They weren’t convinced that my project would work as it stood, which made me question if it would work at all. What if I’m wasting everyone’s time? On top of that, I’ve never met the staff who reviewed the form, and their first impression of me is based on some nonsense I wrote when I was in the midst of depression and completely unable to concentrate. Great.

Luckily I already had a meeting with both of my supervisors organised for the next day to discuss the plan I’d sent. The first thing they did was talk me off the ledge and explain that paperwork, by it’s very nature, is always a couple of months behind where your current brain is at any one time. One of my supervisors spoke of when she got her first form back covered in scrawls, and she’s pretty much one of the smartest people I know, so that gave me hope. My director of studies said that mine is one of the most exciting projects he’s worked on for ages, which is encouraging, but simultaneously terrifying. They’re expecting great things. I want to live up to that and not embarrass them or myself.

So instead of writing my 1000 words on the topic I was working on at the beginning of the week, I’m instead rewriting a form I’d thought I was rid of weeks ago. I’m choosing to see this as a positive thing. It’s giving me a chance to really formulate my plan, it’s highlighted the things that outsiders don’t understand about my project and therefore informed me of how I need to better articulate myself in those areas.

This week’s word count: 887 (but I’m still going).

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4 thoughts on “The genius to moron spiral

  1. Emma, your topic is awesome too and you will live up to your own and your supervisors’ expectations. You’ve already refocused and now it’s just writing it down so other people understand it’s awesome too. You can do this. *Gets pom poms out*

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  2. I love this term: “genius to moron spiral” β€” can totally relate! It sounds like you’re doing just fine. Most people I know flub their mid-progress research proposals a bit, and the people I know I really fecking brilliant, so it must be the right thing to do. Great word count. I think I might copy this idea and start posting my word counts, too β€” though they would be counts of academic words written in general, not words towards the dissertation (which, because of how graduate programs are structured in the U.S., I won’t even begin writing for a couple more years). It’s so soothing to read about someone else’s academic adventures β€” thank you for sharing your experiences and insights!

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    1. I’m only four months in, so it’s not really a mid-way thing, glad to hear I’m not the only flubber out there though! Haha.
      I think my word counts will probably be just general academic writing at this point, stuff that may or may not end up in the thesis. Just need to get some words down on paper.
      Hope you have a good weekend πŸ™‚

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