The sun begins streaming into the windows and she stirs gently, glancing at the clock and noting that it is late morning. She ambles downstairs for a leisurely breakfast before heading to the local coffee shop with an enjoyable book and all the time in the world. After several hours of lounging about, she danders from one cafe to another, sampling coffee and enjoying her book. At days end, she goes back home for an evening of whatever she wants to do. The next day will be much the same, perhaps with some meetings scattered about or a class to attend.
The above is what I’m learning many people assume a PhD candidate’s life is like.
The sun streams into the window, but she has already been awake for hours, fitfully tossing and turning. The theory she’s working with simply doesn’t want to work anymore and most of her work over the last six weeks has been for nought. She faces hours of transcription ahead of her, staring at a computer screen and rewinding the same phrases over and over again in the hopes that she does justice to the interviewees. She’ll spend most of the day alone, with only words to keep her company and cheap coffee to fuel her. At the end of the day, she’ll be lucky to check one item off her massive “to-do” list and cannot remember the last time she felt she actually accomplished anything.
The above is much closer to what actual PhD candidate’s lives are like.
“Oh, you’re doing a PhD? What is it like to just read books and sit in coffee shops all day? When are you planning on getting a job?”
I really should have started keeping track of how often I hear that phrase or derivatives of it when I started this journey two years ago. When people find out that I’m in Belfast to do my doctorate, I tend to get responses which fall into two categories. The first is a type of fascination and the second is laughing judgement.
I love talking about my research and what I’m writing at the moment and I get so few chances to do it I am always thankful to be able to, but for a bit I want to talk about the other category – because of all the things I have learned over the past few years, I have learned that my life does not make sense to many of the people around me. Academic jobs and workloads require a translation of sorts and in this series, I hope to provide a launching point for discussions of that translation.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be writing about the balance between living in the “real” world and the academic one and the act of translating one to the other. If you are someone also living in the balance and would like to share your stories, leave a comment and we’ll continue the discussion.