The Thesis Whisperer always manages to articulate what most of us are thinking.
Visiting my Osteopath recently to discuss my sore neck and shoulder muscles I found myself saying ‘If any one asked me whether or not it was a good idea to do a PhD I would probably tell them that as long as they didn’t mind losing their figure, their health, and their marbles then to go ahead!”
I have worked in various careers over the years and I have to say the last decade in academia has been by far the most stressful, especially as I have combined this with raising a family. Now teens my children do not recall a time when I was NOT a student or a researcher. And I have gained weight, become unfit and have recurring and chronic health problems (though luckily treatable) as a result of the intense periods I spent hunched over my keyboard.
Whilst I fully accept that this is largely due to my own lack of organisation or self-motivation (yes I should take more exercise, drink less alcohol, take more regular breaks, meditate and have fewer late nights and more early mornings), I do feel that much of what I suffer is as a consequence of the work ethos academia generates.
It seems like unless you are shrouded in angst and stressing over the next deadline, you are not really ‘getting’ the full PhD experience. It s something that MUST be suffered through!
But by far the biggest hurdle of all is the lack of any ‘real’ understanding from anyone outside of the field. Unless you have been through it, or are living it, or are working in Academia, there is no way of expressing that it does not work like a normal job! You cannot quantify ‘thinking time’ for example. TW wrote “but that doesn’t mean I have been doing nothing. Oh no – for that is not the academic way. Between bingeing on TV sci-fi series, catching up on all those Antiques Roadshow episodes on my TiVo (yes, I am an old person now), having meals with friends and general slacking off I have been getting through my to do list and landing some of my bigger planes.” struck a chord with me – there is NO SUCH THING AS TIME OFF IN ACADEMIA. You cannot escape your own brain, your own thoughts, or the notion that you have to plan ahead … the only way to take time off is to leave the profession and do something else. Academia is a 24/7 job, that real life interferes with. It is the most incompatible job for family routine, it is also the BEST job to have with kids because it is flexible (apart from deadlines) and as long as your kids are flexible too then it can be rewarding. But because you sit and apparently ‘do nothing’ for long periods it is considered ‘easy’ … not by all but by some. And it is this constant struggle to get people to understand this that is frustrating. TW “Sometimes I think that doing a PhD turned on the ideas engine in my brain so that, even when I am on holiday, I never really stop thinking about my research.” – yup that just about summarises it for me too.
Recently a Forbes article claimed that being an academic was the least stressful job of 2013. However, a storm of protest on social media forced the author to add an addendum acknowledging that this probably wasn’t the case. In fact academics work a a lot and that work tends to intensify in the so called ‘down time’: January here in Australia and July in the North of the world. Freed somewhat from the distraction of emails and the responsibility of caring for students, us academics inevitably find ourselves facing the deep endof the ‘to do’ list.
My January experience is a bit different this year because I’m more than half way through a 6 week break between jobs. I left RMIT on the 12th of December and I’m not due to start at ANU until the 30th of January. I have no classes to prepare and no…
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