Maybe your friend is not “just tired”

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An excellent blog post describing the effects of chronic exhaustion — it’s not just about being “a bit tired”…

Nothing mentioned, nothing gained

I wrote a blog post about a year ago about one of the most frustrating and disabling things about having a chronic illness (type 1 diabetes in my case), that being the utterly draining exhaustion that can consume you, a medical fatigue that’s not responsive to rest or sleep, and goes far, far beyond being simply “a bit worn out.”

As it happened, at the time of that post I was much, much sicker than I realised. I was living on the edge of a coma, and had to take indefinite sick leave to fix myself. There was a lot of lonliness, a lot of frustration, and yes, lots of tears. I don’t remember much hope, but I was stubborn. I did get myself better and eased my way back into the PhD, and life, a few months later. My life story sometimes feels like it’s divided into before and…

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Are you prepared to be intellectually challenged nearly everyday for the next 3-6 years?

Believe it or not, I’m not sure that some people actually want intellectual challenges during their PhD.

Yes, this might be contentious to say, but some researchers can get upset when they are challenged on certain aspects of their research. Sometimes it is due to the way that these challenges are presented, but oft-times it is because the researcher is not willing (or able) to be pulled up on what they have written, preferring to believe that they are right.

The point of being challenged by your supervisor (or anyone else) is to ensure that you are being as rigorous as possible in your research and writing. It should not be seen as a total negation of your work, rather it is being offered as a buttress to support your research.

Also, the intellectual challenge will come from the work that you read and encounter along the way. Things that run counter to or question what you think are useful tools in helping you to write a better thesis.

And finally, you will challenge yourself in many ways at various times too — trying to work out your argument; trying to phrase things correctly; trying to understand your own ideas (let alone anyone else’s).

Test yourself…

Try doing some cryptic crosswords or other puzzles you’re not au fait with for the next week. Try reading some philosophy texts that you have not encountered before. Try to understand a textbook from a discipline or subject that is not related to your own area. Things like that will challenge you, and give you a taste of what might be ahead of you in the PhD process.

If you are not prepared for some kind of mental struggle each and every day, then perhaps you are not ready for a PhD.

Are you TOO passionate about your chosen subject?

The reason I ask this question to prospective PhD applicants is to make them aware that doing a PhD about the thing you love the most in the world might actually bring about a love-hate relationship with it.

You will be required to interrogate the thing you are researching. You will be asked to challenge your views. You will need to deconstruct and dismantle it, to find out how it works. You will need to pick it to bits in a very particular way, and this can often result in being open to criticism and debate.

You might love this subject in a particular way — but does everyone else?

You might love it now — but what about in three years’ time when you have looked at it from every angle?

Being too passionate about your chosen subject, or being too close to it in any sense, can sometimes lead to untold personal issues arising.

When that subject is you or your work (often artistic) then it can prove most problematic.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t choose to study your own work as an artist-scholar, but just be aware that it needs to be done according to certain conventions — and they are not just about subjective reflections or glowing self-serving approval.

And at the final examination stage, the examiners might not care that this is your ‘life’s work’ — they will just care that you have done a satisfactory PhD.

Be passionate about your PhD, but don’t be too passionate about what it’s about. That’s what I’d recommend.

Are you passionate about your chosen subject?

Simply put: are you going to sustain your interest in your PhD research?

Believe it or not, I’ve seen it happen that people lose interest or shift their interest away from what they thought they wanted to do their PhD about.

[That happened to me, in a way.]

What it might mean is that you spend time (waste time?) doing work that turns out not to be relevant to the final thesis. And often because you have just lost interest in your idea.

Your PhD will become a big part of your life for a few years, so you will need to have more than a passing interest in what you are going to do. It has to be something that makes you excited; something you want to return to everyday.

So, being passionate about your chosen subject is important, but as we will see in the next post: don’t be too in love with it…

Can you commit to a decent proposal writing phase?

As I mentioned in a previous post, getting to know your potential supervisor can (and should) start when you are planning your PhD during your research proposal stage — usually before you are registered at an institution and often as part of applying for funding.

This research planning can continue into your first year of the PhD, but in my experience, researchers who have spent more time honing their ideas before they even register for a PhD, get further quicker.

As I’ve said, the proposal writing process is a good way to see if your supervisor can work with you, and whether you are cut-out for doing advanced critical work with someone else.

And a supervisor might also be gauging whether they can work with you and if they feel you have got the commitment to do the actual PhD research and writing. If you can’t even respond to their comments or produce the right standard of writing at the proposal stage, they might not be that supportive of your application.

You will, therefore, need to be able to give over a fair amount of time and brain-space to writing, thinking about, discussing and re-writing a proposal to satisfy your potential supervisor (or funder). And all before you have even started the PhD!

Ah, but I think the PhD starts with the proposal. It begins with getting your ideas beyond the vague notion that you want to research something into the realms of a well-drawn and supported hypothesis. You need to find and present evidence that leads you and others to understand why your research is important, what gap in knowledge you are seeking to fill, and why anyone else other than you should care about your PhD.

And you can use this process to judge for yourself if you are willing to do the work required to complete the PhD — which might take you 3, 4 or 5 years… If you can work for 3 to 6 months on a proposal at a decent clip, then you can scale that up to the kind of commitment the PhD will require.

If after 3 weeks of challenging debate and critical sparring with a potential supervisor leave you breathless and frantic, then you might need to re-assess your process and PhD ambitions.

If you are willing to put in a lot of work to fine-tune your proposal, and get it to a high standard of clarity of expressions and ideas, then you are ready to move on to the PhD-proper.

Start with some simple tools such as these and see if you can begin to form your ideas into a decent research proposal… Good luck with your application!

Simple Tools for PhD Proposals

Here are a couple of tools I have found useful in helping students and prospective students in writing their proposal, research question or abstract/summary of their research ideas…

Posusta’s Instant Thesis:

#1. Although _________________________ , (general statement, opposite opinion)

#2. nevertheless ______________________ . . . (hypothesis, your idea, your ‘thesis’)

#3. because __________________________ . (examples, evidence, #1, #2, #3, etc.) (12)

And here is a rough ‘abstract’ outline that can help you to figure out the whats and whys of your research:

  1. Context – when? where?
  2. Subject – works under discussion, creators, dates, current approaches to the subject, and how you will explore the subject
  3. Claim for significance – why unique?
  4. Theoretical Framework – a key theory guiding your work
  5. Argument – what the analysis of the subject may reveal about the subject
  6. Proofs – evidence

These will help to focus the argument.

Learn to Spreed!

Too many books and articles to get through?

Learn how to speed read…

I’ve just discovered this new speed reading enabler: Spreeder

It helps you to get through more words by reducing subvocalisation.

It’s especially handy for reading web articles, and by using the bookmarklet you can highlight text and it will pace the words at a speed suitable for you to speed read them at.

Ideal for getting the gist of articles when you’re in a hurry!

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