This semester, now that things have slowed down thanks to having just one course to take instead of two and a half, I’ve been getting into the groove as a PhD student. Two months into the semester, here are my thoughts on being a fulltime student:
1. I’m a student, but it’s more like I’m a freelancer in terms of working style. I have tonnes of stuff to do, but have to set my own pace. And I’m liking that. Especially once I bit the bullet and started coming in to office every day, even if I don’t have a class. I may do some faffing (like right now), and spend time and money on travel, but net net more gets done.
2. For a person who falls sick like me, having the flexibility to take time off and rest or work from home and take a nap and eat healthy is amazing. I could really get used to this. The more I do it, the more I think how tyrannical regular office hours are.
3. One of the things that scared me about embarking on a PhD is the loneliness of it all. You may have coursework but not much. And you may or may not meet your fellow students because their timings may not match yours. Doing my PhD in my home city where I have family and friends works out very well for me. I actually have a friendly cohort of fellow PhD students in the department and we do hang out, but it’s usually once a month or lunch once a week. I would probably be lonely and anxious about friendships, feelings which my MA experience taught me I don’t deal well with. I can see some of these same feelings in one girl who has come here from another country and doesn’t have an established friends circle. I would like to hang out more with her, but being a mum I have too many other commitments.
4. I get half the money I used to and cutting back on my expenditure has been a cause of some stress between V and me. Well, that aspect has always been. The fact is that I have more money than my fellow PhD peeps, thanks to my earlier job and savings and the buffer of husband. But it helps to hang out with people with thinner wallets when you’re trying to save.
5. I have always held back from hanging out too much with the intellectual set because they seemed so intense, and part of me felt I couldn’t measure up or sustain that intensity. Obviously doing a PhD means I’ve picked a side, though I’m still deeply into pop culture and silliness with my girls. I do find that running with the geeks is fun though. And I’m pretty smart.
6. Attended my first mini conference. It was grad students seminar with visiting students from Korea. The students were Masters students so a bit of a mismatch there. But I realised I can hold my own with the professors in attendance. I asked some good questions, if I may say so myself. If I had one problem it was talking too much. The other thing that surprised me (apart from feeling so high on bouncing around abstract ideas) was how flustered I felt while giving my five minutes (yes, absurdly short but that was the conference format) presentation. My friends told me I did well, but I wish I could not have felt that nervous in the moment.
7. People warned me about being the absent spouse once I started a PhD. V soon began complaining about how much I was reading. It has taken him a while to really wrap his head somewhat around the fact that it has to be done. For my part, I think I read less than I should be as a result of having a family. Weekends and public holidays, for example are a complete washout. It’s an odd feeling to want to work on a weekend.