Self-help during the wait

The chase is wonderful — in fact, it’s thrilling! Nothing is as fulfilling as meeting a deadline or completing a task even before the deadline (impressive, I know). However, there is that horrible, anti-climactic period after you’ve submitted all your chapters, and you can’t do anything but WAIT… For a constantly busy person, that is an almost frightening experience.  All the interviews and motivational speeches I’ve listened to never told me about this phase of research, and my colleagues don’t really talk about it. So how did I stay sane while waiting for feedback from my supervisor? Here is what unfolded.

I read

Nervous-Conditions-Tsitsi-Dangarembga.jpgBooks – good, old-fashioned novels – handily took my mind off grammatical errors, responding to reviewer comments, and italicized references (as I take a breath). Reading gave me the opportunity to laugh and also to understand the struggles other people go through.  The characters I read about in some of the books came alive, and I was able to escape boredom as it was.   It was also a real relief to be reminded that all reading does NOT have to be scientific. I have a new appreciation for authors; they too have become a part of my study, a comforting part.

I travelled

It’s been said that we travel not to escape life but for life to escape us and to this statement, I concur.  As you’re on your way, it’s amazing how free-spirited it feels to look at passing fields and hopefully soon, passing countries. The scenery in our country is so beautiful and glimpsing others’ lives, I was able to empathize with my fellow country men and women as they face challenges on a daily basis, challenges different to my immediate ones.  To my amazement some parts of the country are drought-stricken while others battle with snow — all in one season — and yet both situations threaten the survival of their livestock. This of course immediately spoke to me of threatened food security. All this reminded me to count my blessings rather than complaining about desiring a life of relaxation.  Traveling and meeting strangers is an education in itself, one I don’t want to ever neglect.

I improved on a skill or two

This may sound a little ambitious, but really, why not?  What better way to be useful to my community and myself than to learn something new?

“I would suggest something out of your comfort zone, something that will allow you to tap into someone else’s world” said the inner me to the lazy me.

So, I bought cooking books and boy did I cook up a storm! Nobody suffered while I fed them, and now I am left with the challenge of identifying a new comfort zone to escape. Self-development is a huge part of my journey, and working on non-academic skills reminds me that there is more to myself than just academia and or science.

Perhaps a number of things are happening around you, outside of your research field, take a moment to appreciate them. It surely does go a long way to staying  sane.







A whole new meaning

Well, I was told that such things happen in research; I just never thought they really did. I’ve heard people’s testimonies of how things went wrong just before they reached the finish line and never for a moment thought “this is my story, this is my song” (singing). But it has happened to me, yes me.

I just heard that one of my chapters needs to be redone entirely. Needless to say, I was disappointed and frustrated but most of all anxious because of the initial deadlines I had set for myself…. It’s a horrifying realization that I have to almost start from scratch with this chapter, and it’s tempting to give up. Strangely, though, this experience is adding new meaning to some of the words I’ve carried with me through this PhD journey. So allow me to share with you my experience of these words.

Progress: It’s not necessarily ticking an item off the to-do list, although most of the time that is how I used to define my own progress.  Yes, the completion of a list does signify progress, but apparently where research is concerned, progress is a 3 (or 4!) dimensional shape whose structure keeps on endlessly changing. The fourth dimension (time) cannot be excluded from the construction of this shape because time allows me the opportunity to monitor my progress, be it in minutes, days or even months, which I must say keeps me on track. I thought I had this progress shape figured out — Alas! A different dimension is revealed to me almost all the time. For example, there are days I struggle writing a sentence, while other days I could easily write a paragraph or two, which taught me that that taking a break is making progress towards working effectively — that time when you CAN be at your most efficient.

Passion:  Defined as an intense desire or enthusiasm for something (for example a PhD… * wink *).  It can’t be faked. Which then led me to believe that passion is the true genesis of genius because it must withstand a lot of pressure and overcome disappointment, failure and — worst of all — confusion. So, yes, passion is more than just that intensity of feeling. Passion is resilient, never gives up and it is restless particularly near the desired end result. It ignites a fire within but can be dangerous at times, causing sleepless nights, adrenalin rush and sometimes making me believe that I’m invincible. One thing is for sure you can’t fight- it -off, no matter how hard you try. And ultimately, this double-edged sword is what you need to succeed, because it drives you when nothing else will.

Purpose: I don’t know if this is true only for me but I get a sense of fulfillment when I know that my “formalized curiosity” has the potential to make a difference, even if it’s just to one person ( that being me and of course my twin … because technically speaking we are the same person) . I have since discovered that purpose does not only serve the individual who must live his/her life to fulfill it. It’s just like how a candle must burn in order to give light to people. Nobody really knows how the candle feels, but because it gives off light we appreciate it and believe it loves fulfilling its purpose.

Even with passion, purpose and progress, staying true to my goal (the PhD!) is often horribly difficult, and I question my own sanity. But without these three P’s I know I will never get there.Fearless.jpg