Physician, heal thyself

Around a month ago, in the midst of a new trimester at work and the return of hundreds of students to the campus, I unwittingly stumbled into an evening of soul searching and fact-facing-up-to. The PhD which I had been registered on for 18 months and focusing on for much longer was no longer the right path for me to be pursuing. Over the course of a couple of hours I kept track of the arguments against, reaching some 30 bullet points and convincing myself in the process that this was a pivotal moment (towards what I’m not quite sure, naturally).

Why is any of that the business of this blog? The PhD was the foundation of this blog, the focus which gave it purpose and drove me to come back to it time and again. I have no intention of discarding the blog though, nor will the research work that I’ve done be wasted – it will find a home and a purpose. Officially however I have suspended my studies, initially for a year. As things stand I do not anticipate picking them up again in the form in which they were structured, it just wasn’t working for me.

In the immediate term, in the here and now, what I had hoped would provide me with a structure in which to place my research activities became instead a cloud over me. It wasn’t possible to have a clean break from work because there always something to be doing. Yet the PhD didn’t feel connected directly to work, this was a personal commitment and therefore occupied a place in my non-work psychology. Not a particularly contented place at that: it wasn’t making me happy because the progress was slow, or the benefits intangible, or the pay off too far away to motivate me. I’m sure I’m not the first person to feel this, but I found myself wondering why I should be going through it if I didn’t recognise the benefits and couldn’t be sure that this was the best way to go about trying to attain them.

Looking further ahead and I could see that there would be more of this to come. More weekends compromised by unproductively trying to make a small amount of progress. More time away from doing things I’d like to do, whether that be work related or not. It’s fine to cut extra activities out of work if it means freeing up time elsewhere for research, but after a while you lose contact with things that make the job more varied and rewarding than it might otherwise be.

The longer term, of career progression, has been altered by this course of action, this decision. That said it was an uncertain future anyway, so it’s just as much an opportunity as a hindrance.

Fortunately, right here and now, I’m very happy in my work, with no intention to go anywhere and (I hope) a supportive employer and some great colleagues. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and the supported offered me to pursue a doctorate, it has taught me a lot. I’ve also been privileged to work with some fantastic supervisors and colleagues, who I hope will want to work with me again in the future. I may still become Dr Jarman, there are ways to achieve it through publication, but that’s not something to worry about now and not something that’s going to shape my research choices and decisions. The themes of my PhD live on, in what form is TBC.

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