Doggy Paddle

An elementary swimming stroke in which the swimmer beats at the water with the hands in a manner resembling a swimming dog.

This post is dedicated to my tirelessly supportive and inspiring friend Claire Collison. I’d be lost at sea without you.

Walking along this beach last week I stopped to watch a dog, a goofy golden retriever. The dog was in the shallows, looking towards the shore. She had a tennis ball, which she was trying to pick up in her mouth. But of course, every time she tried, the tennis ball would gently bob off in a different direction. So close, and yet so far to getting out of the shallows, trying her hardest to hold that ball in her mouth, and catch up with her owner.

I’m not a dog person, but good lord, I feel like that dog with my PhD right now.

I was supposed to have submitted my PhD at the end of October, but like many people, life tilted, and I’m now submitting at the end of March. Four months. I managed, thanks to the support of my supervisors and lowering my expectations, to just keep on top of my PhD during lockdown, and when my son finally returned to school in September, I was able to power on with getting another draft of Chapter 4 – the data chapter – written, and write a first draft of Chapter 5 – the findings chapter. My supervisors and I also wrote a book chapter together, which when I think about now, feels like it happened to someone else.

Suddenly it’s November, and I have as of today, 69,491 words written. A PhD is around 80,000 (in my discipline, at least), so I’m close. But like that goofy dog, it’s still exhaustingly out of reach. There is a lot of fine tuning to do, Chapter 6 – the conclusion – to write. Editing, formatting, proofing and pulling together the first full draft. Then responding to my supervisor’s feedback on Chapter 5, and pulling together the final draft. Four months.

And just to make things a wee bit harder, I’m still teaching (online, which is alright), applying for jobs (at least there are some), and writing another book chapter. It’s hard to convey how constantly on the back foot I feel, how constantly worried I am about family, friends and colleagues, the school closing, my students. Actually finishing my PhD.

The clock is counting down now, really counting down. In March the money runs out and the safety net is pulled. I have a six-week schedule which would make an army sergeant cry, it’s so precise. My next submission date is January-sometime, with a Christmas of some kind in between, so it’s going to be heads down until then. The days will be getting longer by then.

My lovely PhD BFF Kristin reminds me again and again that a PhD only has to be good enough, not perfect, and she is of course right. But even ‘good enough’ takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. This PhD exists because of other people’s kindness in telling me their stories, so for them, for those stories, I will push through the tiredness until I can pick up that tennis ball and get out of the shallows.

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