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Staying future-focused or chasing my tail?

Doing a PhD is an interesting lesson in project and resource management.  I find that a lot of the work that has comprised my sport science PhD to date doesn’t have much to do with “sport science” at all.  Much of the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired relate more to managing timelines, managing other stakeholders in my research, and managing myself.

I am nearing the halfway mark of my PhD.  On May 22nd, I will be exactly 1.5 years through my candidature; as close to the end as I am to the start of this fascinating journey.  Amongst the many simultaneous yet conflicting emotions that I am sure every PhD student feels, the overriding sense I have right now is that I need to be doing more.  I’ve been living with this feeling for the past few weeks, but with my fingers in many pies, I haven’t had the chance to just sit and absorb the sensation.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that “living in the present” is one of the ultimate challenges of staying sane throughout a PhD.  If you’re behind in meeting deadlines, then every day can feel like you are clawing your way up a sand dune; you’ve got to exert an inordinate amount of effort to make small amounts of progress towards level ground.  If you happen to be ahead of schedule, then self-doubt quickly creeps in to rain on your short-lived parade.  Why weren’t my timelines more ambitious?  Maybe I could have finished that project even sooner than I did!  Perhaps I finished the task ahead of schedule because I didn’t take the time to pay attention to the details?  What if, what if, what if…?

As every PhD student knows, you get an awful lot of advice during your candidature.  But in 1.5 years, I have never received any tips on how to let go of the constant fixation on “what’s next?”  There’s enough debate about the pros and cons of academia without my two bob, but this intense focus on the future does seem to be a cultural peculiarity of performance-based environments such as “the academy”.  After all, if you don’t have one eye on the horizon, then someone else does, and that someone else will be the one to win the scholarship/win the grant/publish the seminal paper/write the classic textbook, and so forth.

But as for me, I’ll just be happy to feel free enough to enjoy two days off in a row, without having PhD guilt on the brain…

….AAAAAND welcome back!

On Wednesday, I submitted my PhD confirmation report, and boy does it feel great to have my life back!

The last two months have been hectic, to put it mildly. In amongst preparing for confirmation, I’ve had to manage with a heavy teaching load, plus severe exhaustion that became a head cold that became laryngitis that led to losing my voice for five days. Fun. Times. I hope it’s true what they say, that the first year of a PhD is the hardest…

I still have a presentation to give in a couple weeks’ time, but I’ve always felt pretty comfortable with speaking to an audience. I think it’s a good chance for me to demonstrate my knowledge to this point, while also getting feedback from others in my School who are very experienced in other fields that I have little to do with.

For now, I am off to watch Pushing Daisies and relax without a smidge of guilt.