Swim Down

– a swimming term to  describe swimming slowly and steadily at the end of the session to warm down.

This post is dedicated to Kristin O’Donnell, Willem J Stander and Claire Warrington: thank you: your support means everything.

No doubt you have been pacing the floors, wondering how my latest supervisory meeting went, and what the feedback was on my methodology chapter?

Well, I have good news. Overall, the second draft was (ahem), ‘a joy to read, and the writing is, in places, at PhD standard.’ There is still much work to do, because there always is with a PhD, but that’s better, isn’t it? I think so. Turns out all that fucking up might have helped after all.

Now, this is not intended to be a boast – I am a doormat, don’t forget. Rather, it is a lesson in remembering that this stuff takes work. Lots and lots of work. And reading, rewriting and restructuring. No one is a natural at this stuff, no one gets it the first time. Or the second, third or even tenth time. Sometimes it feels like you will never get it. And if you are feeling lost, worried, frustrated, flailing in the dark, I promise you this: me too.

One of the hardest things about a PhD is that you are told over and over the importance of pulling all of your threads together, so that your research all connects. My first supervisor, Prof Katherine Johnson explained it beautifully.  She said:

‘It’s like you take the reader by the hand at the beginning, and you don’t let go. Your job as writer is to keep hold of their hand, and tell them your story’.

This is so hard when you don’t yet know your story from start to finish. It can feel like you are doing things in the wrong order and in isolation. It’s true that a PhD is like a jigsaw puzzle; you do bits of it here and there, not always being able to see the final picture until it’s nearly done.

So my advice is: don’t give up. It’s not deeply profound, or original, and you will want to give up some days. Be kind to yourself on those days, do a small piece of the puzzle, read the back of the box, look at the picture again to remind yourself of what is still to come.

You can do it.

Coming next:

Getting ready for my secondary progresssion review: presenting, publishing and final year plans.




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