You know when you go away for a while and when you come back everything feels strange in it’s familiarity? The haphazard way that you made your bed before you left. The one pair of socks that you left on their airer hanging stiffly because you forgot to buy fabric conditioner. Little piles of mess pushed to the corners of the room because you couldn’t be bothered to tidy them away when you still needed to pack, and was that really the time, and you needed to be on the road in ten minutes.
Today I opened my computer for the first time since I went away. Tabs and open windows greeted me. A half finished report, university guidelines, PDFs, a finished chapter that I was liberating quotes from. It’s been in the back of my head that I have work to do, a presentation to make, a report to edit, a chapter to start, but somehow the urgency that only seems to visit in waves has ebbed. I can’t tell if it’s an arrogance of assumption that I’ll just get it done, or if my mood is taking another dip.
While I was away I thought a lot about what it means to me to be a PhD student. I began to notice that when I introduce myself to new people I always take the time to emphasise that it’s a PhD I’m doing at uni. I use it almost like a justification – oh, I don’t have a job because I’m doing a PhD; I don’t have a house because I’m up North for a bit writing my thesis; what do I want to do with my life? Oh, well, when I finish my PhD I’ll probably go into lecturing if I can find a job, and what about you?
I’ve always based my self-worth on my academic achievements; I’ve never been pretty or handy or particularly eloquent, but I can write a bloody good essay. I tend to downplay my PhD, I say that reading is the only thing I’m good at (true), that I have no idea what else I’d do with my life (also true). So what does it mean when I base my self-worth on something that I then downplay?
I think that the reason I’ve begun to notice all of this is because of how insular and independent the PhD is. At undergrad and masters level you have a constant stream of deadlines. You write essays and get feedback. If you’re lucky, you get praise which then acts as validation. We’ve all been well lectured on the dangers of external validation, but that tends to come in the form of ‘you don’t need a partner to be happy’ and ‘you don’t need instagram likes to believe you’re pretty’. I imagine that gaining an internal sense of validation is an important part of becoming a functional adult human, I just have no idea how to go about that. Suggestions on a post-card.
Next week’s blog will definitely be about having achieved something work-wise.