A Manifesto for Positivity During the PhD
Very often when attending academic events you may be able to witness a ritual unfold in a true Shit Academics Say mode: sighs, pads on shoulders and compassionate looks are exchanged after a marathon of academic horror stories; this is then followed by the usual countless remarks by senior academics on whether one should even encourage students to pursue a research career (hello – I am sitting right next to you!). I’m not going to lie, witnessing these rituals of collective self-pity makes me feel equally repulsed and worried about my own future. Yes, be realistic and up front with us about the job market. Yes, tell us about the pitfalls of academic life because we need to hear those too. But it cannot become all we hear about. Don’t crush our dreams and hopes. Don’t make us feel that all our efforts will amount to nothing in the future. You were us once. You once wanted what we want now. And you stuck to it for the past ten, twenty, thirty, forty years. So please don’t tell us it is all bad, all horrible, all stress and no rewards. Especially because we do look up to you and have so much respect for you. Tell us why you are still here, still teaching, still researching, still giving papers, going to conferences and sitting across from us. We need you. And we need you to be kind. This is how you change the system. Teach us what a system that values kindness, generosity and support across and within generations looks like and how we can contribute to make it default. To make it easier for those coming after us. Challenge and push us further than we ever thought we could go but don’t break us in the process. Show us how to remain whole.
Despite or because of everything, I feel that positivity can be an act of resistance; resisting a system and resisting a mode of thinking. I refuse to be negative. I refuse to feel sorry for myself. This is not what I want to get out of my PhD or out of life. And yes, I am scared, anxious, wary and highly doubtful of the PhD enterprise all the time (most days and every day)
I want to enjoy the freedom I have been given. I want to enjoy waking up in the morning giddy with excitement about a day full of reading, writing and listening. I want to enjoy travelling, meeting new people, sharing and exchanging ideas and experiences. I want to retain that feeling of ridiculous joy and elation after a conference, a talk, when finally finding the right quote or bridging paragraph, when meeting your favourite author, when you’ve organised an event and everyone is happy and elated with you at the end of the day, when you sit with other women from your field and you just click. I want all of that to be normal and I want as much of it as possible.
Here’s 10 reasons why I love doing a PhD:
- I love the freedom to mostly work when and where I want; I can make the workload fit around what works best for me and am not tied down by 9-5 schedule.
- I love the sheer joy and incredible excitement that comes with writing and reading about literature and theory. I mean, wow, I have a job where I can read for a living?
- I love that everything I read (be it for pleasure or for class, a reading group or for my thesis), I read for myself, it goes into my brain and forms new connections there.
- I love that I’ve been to so many places I’ve enjoyed tremendously and I wouldn’t have necessarily gone to if it wasn’t for a conference or a lecture; it is discovering the unknown, both geographically and intellectually, that is absolutely awesome.
- I love that my primary responsibility at the moment is to my research project. I wasn’t always this lucky and am so very grateful for this opportunity.
- I love when I realise my own privilege and am able to enjoy it too. Doing a PhD is a very special time in an academic career and should be treated as such. Cherish every second!
- I love doing things on a daily basis that are way out of my comfort zone – it helps me grow.
- I love the generational exchange and being able to learn from many wonderful senior researchers to whom I look up very much.
- I love having to push myself, to be persistent, never to give up to reach my goals.
- But most of all, I love the collegial and true friendships with other female academics who have shown me what true support means. It is what keeps me going and what gives me so much hope for the future. You know who you are, my wonder women!
Why do you love doing a PhD?