Starting a PhD can be a disorienting experience. The sensation of uncertainty can be even worse, if, in just few months, you find yourself in the middle of a pandemic and your GPC is approaching. In this article, Giulia, 1st year PhD student in Philosophy, describes how the role of her research has changed during the first months of her doctoral experience.
It is the end of April 2020, namely the end of the first year of my PhD. I still cannot believe that more than 7 months have passed since the first time I arrived at the campus and I tried to understand what I was expected to do for the following 4 years of my life.
I had wanted to enter a PhD programme for quite a long time and I spent more than a couple of years struggling with applications and working on my project for it to reach my goals. Thus, the sensation of disorientation and insecurity that took me at the beginning of my work of research arrived completely unexpected.
I was familiar with the type of work required by research activities and I had already experienced some situations related to the dissemination of research results. What I had not considered before was the difficulty to manage a quite large project on a specific gap in the literature rather than single issues one at a time.
Besides the practical matters of an international move (I come from Italy), it was the sensation of uncertainty about how to organise my topic of interest that most affected my sense of stability and made me feel out of my comfort zone. Each single time I thought that I knew which direction a certain part of my project was taking, I had to substantially rethink another piece of the path I was following. In this continuous process of exploration and discovery, to which my supervisors contributed in the most supportive and helpful way, I began to enjoy the sensation of acquiring new information and put them together in the development of an organised whole.
Today, after spending a certain number of hours working on the synopsis of my thesis, I submitted the documents required for the upgrade to my supervisory team. I immediately and inevitably began to think how my research, a source of anxiety and uncertainty, has become a proper source of security in the last months.
I am a really anxious person who usually loves to plan ahead and has a precise schedule of her time. So, I tend to be really organised and have a diary full of deadlines and reminders about activities in which I want to take part.
At the beginning of the lockdown, I was organising a workshop that was intended to take place in the middle of term 3 in my department. I tried to hold on, even against all the reasonable predictions I could make about the near future, saying to myself that the middle of June was still far away and it was not so impossible to think that everything would be back to our usual reality by then.
In just a few days, in the middle of March, all the academic and non-academic events I was planning to take part in were cancelled and the organisation of my workshop foundered. The situation escalated rapidly and more fundamental and substantial fears, rather than the ones for my project and my extracurricular activities, overwhelmed me.
There was no way to save what I was organising before and, in such precarious circumstances, it was impossible to organize any other activity I could think about. So, after some difficult weeks, during which the lack of concentration and lucidity affected my work quite heavily and the frustration reached incredibly high peaks, I took some time off, following my supervisor’s advice, and I abandoned completely my work schedules.
Some days I turned back to my research in a non-systematic way, randomly exploring the most interesting aspects I have found so far and trying to think how put a series of pieces together. I began to enjoy again the research and, even facing problems due to the current circumstances, I started having the pleasant sensation that I can control at least a small part of my reality reading and writing my research. In these times, I learnt to not put pressure on myself and to not set up goals and deadlines as I used to.
I am sure that my results are not the best that I can reach in a normal and relaxed scenario, where I can access all the resources of the library, not be afraid to go out of my house, and have a balanced life. However, the enjoyment that I experience in thinking about philosophical issues has become an incredibly relevant element that contributes to my personal and mental stability.
What about you? Do you think the uncertainty of the current situation can help you find solace in your work? Or are you struggling to focus? Let us know! Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Giulia Lorenzi is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at University of Warwick, funded by AHRC M4C. In her PhD project she aims to explain the distinctiveness of the auditory experience of listening to music, connecting her interests in philosophy of mind and in music. Indeed, she is also a horn player with a MA in music performance. You can find her on Twitter @GiuliaLorenzi92 or take a look at her website https://giulialorenzi.jimdofree.com/