I am a PhD candidate again. I was one before, for a while at least, until anxiety and culture shock made me shift my research into an MPhil. I remember feeling nothing but relief at the time; I had worn out my bag of tricks and had nothing else to give. My eventual thesis span out of a conversation with my supervisor in which everything changed. I told him of the reactions I’d been having after the supervision meetings, and how I thought there was a thesis here instead of that which I’d been doing. Literary tourism shifted into questions of landscape; the relationship between individual shifted into girls in space, and the world changed.
I was relieved, but with that came a sense of loss. I wanted that doctorate even though I did not quite understand what it was, or what it could be, or even how I could fit into that world. It’s something I don’t think we talk about at all (hence this post); people have alternative journeys into this space and come with alternative needs. Even though I’d worked in the administrative side of a university for a long while and knew more about the processes then I cared to admit, that shift into ‘academia’ was immense. It still is. Nobody in my family teaches in a university. Nobody has done a doctorate. The absence of what I knew was immense, and realising that was not easy.
But I did, and I have, and now I have started a PhD again. I am starting it on ground so very different than before, starting it on a stability and power and strength that I have earned. These qualities are something that the past few years have given me. Learning is no straightforward thing; it does not map itself onto your journey and you should not worry if you do not map onto its. You will connect at some point, maybe now, maybe later, but it will come. The important thing is to know that. Because you do. It will always come.
I think it’s important to talk about this sort of thing. It is difficult to learn or teach without understanding who you and where you are, and articulating that is an important thing. This process has made me the scholar who I am, and that’s valuable. The support of my incredible supervisor has made me who I am, and that’s a gift. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m not. This isn’t a pity me journey but rather something that I hope, in expressing, will provide some solidarity to others experiencing a similar journey. You are not alone. Alternative routes into the academy, divergent journeys and new voices are to be celebrated. You may be wrapped in imposter syndrome, you may be wrapped in it every single damn day, but you persist.
When I write things like this, I’m writing to the person I was only a few short years ago and I’m telling her that it will be okay. That this process will make you a scholar, a writer, a researcher who looks to help other people onto their journeys, to find the point of connection in their assignments and to celebrate that and build upon that. Everybody has something, somewhere. All we have to do as educators is find it and help it be seen.
I am starting the PhD over in a practical, administrative sense, but when it comes to my work and what I want that to say and be, I’m not. This is no beginning. It’s the second chapter. The third. The fourth. And there’s more to come. I think the big thing I’ve learnt is how to let myself see that. And I do now, I really do.