PhD1: January Check-In

Hello, friends. 

It’s the first week back after Reading Week – at least it is for those of us who go to York University. I’ve been using this time off from classes to, you know, read, but I’ve also been taking the chance to sleep, a lot. The last few months have been physically exhausting as I try to keep pace with where I think I should be on this road. The landscape of this program has been dense and textured, the foliage of it rough with bark and twined with vines, with mushrooms in the shady areas and the meadows all a-flower. Sometimes, I’m torn between staying on the partly-overgrown path trying not to trip, and wanting to explore everything. All this whilst being terrifyingly aware that I am operating on a timeline.  

The experience so far has been heavy with intellectual work (which I anticipated), and drenched in emotional work (which, truly, I have no idea why I didn’t anticipate, since it feels rather obvious in hindsight). It feels as if there aren’t enough hours in my days to maintain myself (the cooking, the cleaning, the sleeping) and my grad school and work responsibilities. I have been told time and again that learning how to skim productively will save my hide, but… I can’t. I’m hoping that if I try to lay as good a foundation as I can this year, I will be able to breathe a little easier next year with regards to some of the work I have to do.

The week before the break, I was at the department lounge getting coffee, in a bit of a despondent, contemplative mood. Don’t get me wrong: I love the work that I’m doing and I know that I’m in the right place at the right time. I just had this deep, almost overwhelming sense that I could never be able to catch up (wow, it’s almost as if the system is structured so that it’s an endless horizon of deadlines). A prof came in, and I asked them whether the feeling of trying to catch up ever stops. They said, “I wish I could tell you otherwise, but no.” It ended up being an actually really thoughtful conversation about how the short answer is, “No,” and the long answer is, “No, but it is imperative that you learn coping mechanisms.” Gotta love that honesty. I came away from that moment feeling a little more jaded about the state of the academic institution, but also energized in some weird manner – if a professor in my department also feels the seeming-impossibility of catching up, then surely the problem is not me.

I’ve been told time and again that the PhD is a marathon. I thought I knew what that meant, but I guess you don’t realise the full extent of it until you’re running.

And here we go.

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