I have an acute awareness of fairness and equity. If you’ve ever shouted me a coffee, given me a lift, or covered the cost of a gig ticket for me, your kind gesture has not been forgotten. And since I also hate feeling like I owe anyone anything (even if it’s only me making me feel that way), I’ve probably already paid you back or returned the favour in some form. It’s only natural*, then, that my sense for what’s fair and right extends to my conduct as a PhD student.
Having recently passed the “halfway mark” of the PhD (1.5 years in to a 3-year full-time PhD scholarship), I often find myself taking pause to reflect on the incredible support I’ve received to this point in my candidature. I’ve had great guidance from my supervisors to guide me through the process to this point (shout out to Paul Gastin, Tony Rice, and Luana Main!). I’ve been “mentored” by other academics and professionals, both within sport science and completely outside of it! I’ve learned from the experiences of postdocs and other PhD students a little further down the track than myself. And of course, there have been those transient but nonetheless valuable supporters with whom I’ve connected through the interwebs 😉
The challenge that remains for me is to feel like I am giving back.
Paying it forward
What could I, a lowly PhD student, possibly offer to balance the ledger with the esteemed professors, the established academics, and other clever people who have helped pave this path I am on? Having little of value to give back, it seems to me that the only fair solution is to pay it forward. I’ve tried to live much of my life with this in mind, and my life is only richer for it.
As I neared the end of my days of playing junior basketball, I decided to become a volunteer coach for my club. I wanted to give back to the sport that taught me to value teamwork, persistence, organisation, foresight. For four years, I coached boys and girls, kids as young as 7, young adults playing at Under 20s level, and everything in between. In the process, I acquired and developed skills and knowledge that continue to bolster my work today – communication across a wide range of ages, patience, forward planning, conflict resolution, group management, young athlete development, body language awareness, and much more.
Ironically, in coaching to give back, I only received greater rewards. Every experience I have as a PhD student continues to reinforce the same message: paying it forward is even more powerful than paying it back. I think my PhD life has been so rich this year because I’ve been in a position to pay forward the lessons I’ve learnt from others. The power is in the spreading of wealth, in bonding over common challenges, in sharing the kind of insights that come with having inched a little further along the path. And of course, there’s a lot to be said for the kind of support we have in our School: a culture that encourages autonomy within community. It’s a heady mix and an intoxicating environment, in the best possible way.
* I couldn’t let this blatant Crowded House reference go by without explicitly commenting on it. Lately, I’ve been falling in love with Crowded House all over again, with “It’s Only Natural” being one of my all-time favourite CH tunes. I feel like the voices of Neil and Tim Finn have soundtracked much of my life, but it still amazes me that I can pop my earphones in and immediately settle into relaxed focus. To steal a line from Inger Mewburn, there’s a blog post in that! 🙂
Such a great idea. I’ve thought about what I could possible do for my supervisors to thanks them for all their time and support during my honours year this year. I sadly struggled, similar to you, to think of what a student do for a professor! So, instead paying forward my time and support to newcomers to the honours world has been a new project of mine 🙂