How I see it …. reflections on my PhD progress

In my job, one of the most important things in my career has been keeping other people safe, as a nurse, as a mentor and as a teacher. I have always looked out for everyone else, as an educator I help my students to navigate their way through their own study, as a mentor in a youth programme I guide young people to learn life skills with feedback showing that I am competent and capable.

In both of these situations, I have the big picture and I am the guide who is helping others to navigate their way through the quagmire. This week, with around a month to completion of my PhD I have been grappling with some of the same issues my students do. Self-doubt, I have been doubting the quality of my research thus far (four years) and doubting my ability to complete my PhD, in other words questioning my competence and capability.

Many wise colleagues have said obtaining a PhD is not always about just finishing a thesis, it is about the journey you took to get there, showing that you can be an expert in that area and that you are capable of completing research. The problem is when I am immersed in writing it does not feel like the journey is as important as just finishing.

Remembering these comments about the journey triggered me to take a step back and ask myself what I could do to change my doubts. I came to realise that I had been spending 12-16 hours a day writing so that I had time to help out my parents. This meant going back to basics, good sleep, good nutrition and Yoga (which helps the neck and back pain from writing). The thing was, these changes would help me to get back on track but still didn’t fully appease the self-doubt but it did let it take a back seat.

What helped me the most was this morning, at coffee one of my colleagues said, “you can do it, you are doing so well”, “you are almost there”, and I can read a chapter for you if you like. As humans we are quick to judge and critique ourselves and others, to be quite honest, writing a PhD and working in academia requires you to critique yourself and others continually. To have someone encourage and give of themselves without any expectations in return made all the difference and was refreshing.

This has reminded me that progress is not just measured on the finished product, but the journey and I can do a lot of things along the way which can make this run smoothly. Furthermore, encouragement at the right moment in time makes a difference and I plan to ensure that I use these skills to guide others on their academic and life journeys.

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