A PhD’s Work is Never Done

January marked the start of my third year as a PhD researcher. Sometimes it feels like I only just started but other times, like now, it feels like I’ve been doing this my entire life with no beginning and no end in sight, just an interminable stretch of papers, supervisions, fieldwork, and reading.

I’ve begun to go back over the work I’ve done since the beginning to start to piece together the story I’ll be telling in my thesis. I’ve managed to keep myself pretty organised throughout this process. Even with this being the case digging through binders of work and journal articles in order to begin this big review was enough to take up half of my work day yesterday.

This morning I spread it all out on the floor and was paralysed. Here it was. My PhD here on the floor; piles of papers, a laptop, folders, and the journal I’ve kept since my first day in Leicester. There was only one place to start, I grabbed the first paper I’d written and started to read.

I began putting notes into the margin, questioning my past self. Do you have references for these assertions? What if you brought these two ideas together to strengthen your argument? What do you mean here? SERIOUSLY, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!

I did the same treatment to the next. A lot had changed since I had written these papers. I had changed, too. It’s difficult not to change during the course of intense work like a PhD. You live with the literature and arguments and data. You go out and do fieldwork and go to conferences and talk to a lot of different people. You begin to look at the world differently and the information we use to make meaning out of the world. Nothing is simple anymore. Complexity is everywhere and you begin to embrace complexity. Then you curse it because how are you going to explain everything you need to using only 80,000 words?

Slowly, the story I want to tell will begin to take shape over the next few weeks. It’ll be the story of my research, my participants, and my fieldwork sites. It’s also going to be the story of me – the story of my PhD journey.

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