The Lament of a Second-Year PhD Student

As I tackle the second year of my PhD, I reflect on the realities of being an underwhelmed PhD student. Expect the usual honesty, frankness and grumbling.

I started this PhD because I thought it was the right thing to do – the next logical step in my academic ‘career’. Turns out, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, mainly because there’s no support: it’s just you, your research and your own motivation. After getting off to such a great start, I feel at a complete loss now – just going through the motions for the sake of it.

What has really thrown the curveball is this coronavirus pandemic that is gripping the world right now. I never thought I’d experience something like this in my lifetime, but here we are, stuck at home, hoping we’ll pull through. What a difference a few months makes! All this time reflecting has made me consider what I truly want out of life. Right now, it is not a PhD. I love the research side of things but, honestly, what difference is my work going to make in times like these? It all just seems a little too irrelevant.

I wish, truly, that I was doing something more worthwhile with my life, career and future. I put my life on hold for what I thought was the right thing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It doesn’t give me a purpose, at all. It just reminds me how much I haven’t achieved every single day.

I could have been working with the RAF Reserves right now, helping those in need and supporting the frontline workers… but I put that on hold.

I could be working at a job that I love, perhaps even supporting the crisis in another way, but I put an alternative career on hold for this, too.

I could be a lot happier right now, if I’m honest. If only I put my life into perspective when it mattered.

With that said, I’m refocusing my priorities, and what better time to do so than now, when I’m furloughed and have nothing but my research to keep me occupied.

I’m going to put my all into this PhD.

Mainly out of determination, but, just a little, to prove some people wrong. It’s a lonely road you walk during a PhD, and there’s a shit tonne of obstacles to overcome.

Well, f**k them all.

I’m not wasting valuable years of my life trying to live up to the expectations of others, competing for the university’s favour or jumping through the hoops of some flawed system. I’m done with it. It’s time to prioritise my own needs for once, I’ve been screwed over too many times in such a short space of time. I’ve sacrificed too damn much with precious little to show for it.

Some things are going to change, for one, my attitude towards it all. My research has no value outside of ticking a box and potentially allowing me to qualify. Once I disengage from trying to ‘make a difference,’ then I may not give myself such a hard time. I want to enjoy the process, if that’s at all possible. I’ve met some amazing people in the field and can genuinely see this being a stepping stone towards a more fulfilling career.

I also believe that my research will truly benefit from this change in mindset, especially once I’m feeling better about myself, my place in the world and what on Earth I want to do with my life. Talk about a quarter-life crisis, eh? I’ve spent too many sleepless nights wondering where my life is going, and not enough time living, you know?

I’ve called this a lament, and that’s exactly what it is. I apologise for anyone reading this (if anyone) but I’ve spent two years of my life bottling everything up and pretending it’s okay, so here goes:

  • I feel like a failure, every damn day.
  • I can’t help but compare myself to others, either those tackling PhDs, or just friends around the same age. In doing so, I feel inadequate, underachieving and invisible.
  • I’ve lost contact with a lot of friends, mainly through feeling like a burden, when I want nothing but the best for them.
  • I’m not making the most out of my life and I’m not, truly, happy. If you wonder why, read points a), b), and c).

Now that’s off my chest, let me just infuse a bit more positivity into this tirade.

  • I have an amazing family who support me in all that I do. I don’t thank them enough for it, but I try to be there for each of them in return.
  • I’m fortunate enough to be (relatively) fit and healthy. Nothing has made me appreciate that more than the current situation.
  • I have hope: for the future, for myself and even, though I can rarely believe it, in my research.

I’m a big believer in the Law of Attraction, and if I don’t start taking care of myself and thinking positively, it’s going to end up being detrimental to my mental health.

While I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have, I’m going to have to capitalise on them a lot more. I spend a lot of time dreaming and wishing I was this confident, capable, self-assured person, so I’m going to have to become just that.

Depression/anxiety corrodes your self-confidence. It whittles you down until you no longer recognise yourself. During this process, you end up distancing yourself from those you love, in your mind, to protect them. This leaves a lonely, self-loathing shell that can function, but doesn’t truly live.

While a lot of things have been put on hold during this pandemic, I’m slowly going to turn my life around during these few months because, honestly? I don’t recognise myself anymore.

I’m going to wrap this up here before I go on for days.

Just know, if you’re reading this, I thank you, for either your support or curiosity, whatever brought you here today. I wish you the very best during these dark times.

Today was the day I put my philosophical uncertainties into a few words, hopefully today is also the start of the rest of my life (in a non-cheesy way).

Peace and love,

Cara

3 replies to “The Lament of a Second-Year PhD Student

  1. Even though that, right now, it may not feel like what you’re doing is important, and it may feel like it’s not important because you’re not on the front lines, it is still important. You don’t have to be on the front lines to help others and to serve in this pandemic. And looking at what your research is about, video games are one of the activities helping people get through this traumatic event. We still need escapism and fun at times like these. So yes, you are doing important things! You can do it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s easy to lose perspective of your research when comparing it to others, but your kind reply has really just kicked me out of my negativity. Thank you, so much, Elise. Stay safe!

      Like

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