If Google gobbles up your search terms and spits you out at a site called ‘Real Life PhD Student’, chances are you’re a) considering a PhD and want to know what it’s really like, or b) already doing a PhD, and want to know whether what it’s like for you is normal.
When I reflect on my own research life so far, my overactive (literature student’s) imagination springs into action with the help of some trusty word-pictures. Do these ring true for you?
In the early days I did a lot of archival research. At this stage, it felt like I was finding lots of tasty morsels to season my thesis with – salt and pepper, maybe some rosemary* – but no big juicy steak to fill the proverbial plate.
On the other hand, writing always feels like catching a nervous horse. You have to walk up to it sideways, looking like the last thing you want to do is write a thesis. I mean, catch a horse. So I approached it from all sorts of angles, whistling nonchalantly, and managed to get a few thousand words on paper in the process.
(Forgive the mixing of metaphors: I’m certainly not suggesting you cook la viande de cheval and hand it in to your supervisor.)
More recently, it seems my daily work most closely resembles that of a shepherd. Spring has sprung, and the pastures of the last two years are now populated by lots of lovely little thought-sheep. My job is to get them into a straight line, and through yonder gate… “Baa-ram-ewe!”
Do you see your PhD in pictures, too?
*you’ll be grateful I avoided making a bad joke about not having enough thyme