When you start a PhD, objectively you know it’s something you do mostly on your own. You don’t have classes to attend, you may be off in another country doing field work, you are not required to show your face in your department except about once a month…it’s an individual journey at it’s core. It is, after all, about doing your own independent research project.
In reality, it takes a while for this to really sink in. I was so busy with training sessions and getting involved in my (to be fair, very involved) department that it was second year before I really started to feel as if I was kind of alone in this whole thing. But I know it’s been harder on others who haven’t been as involved. And I know, as I have now turned over my duties and responsibilities and settled in to actually do my PhD, I have been noticing it more this last month. And it’s a hard adjustment. This summer, 80% of my department is in some other country or other, and the ones that are here are here because they have a great deal of work to do. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time to see each other. Those of us who do are the ‘main group’; the ones who always go out or call to see if we’re around for a cup of tea. There’s plenty of other PhD students in the department that I never hear from.
And that’s hard. I don’t think I realised how hard until this weekend, when I had a long talk with something who is really struggling with the independent part of research right now. And I came to realise that it has been hard lately for me too and that talking with each other helped and that we need to do more of that, with other students too. So that’s a game plan for the autumn, is to make sure we’re staying in touch and talking and chatting and not just focusing on the PhD. Because the PhD is important, it is, but so is having a life and feeling involved and supported. The PhD may be an independent research study, but the rest of it is most certainly not independent, and shouldn’t be.
I know this is hard in other departments. I’ve heard more than a few ‘horror’ stories about various other subjects where no one ever talks to anyone and there’s no support beyond the supervisor who is never around. I can’t imagine, because the MS department is wonderful and supportive, but sometimes it has to be the students themselves who are wonderful and supportive too. Because we are the ones that understand each other and how hard this is and we need to talk about that more.
A bit of a realistic post for a Sunday morning.