Depressed and lonely teenage girl with hands over her face sitting on the railroad
February 18, 2016

Wandering through the Valley of Sh!t

Recently I was reading a post on The Muse, an online career resource website, and I was drawn to this post because of the title: “How to Work Hard When You Really Just Don’t Care Anymore”. Unfortunately this is where I am at with my PhD.

In doing this PhD I have been very fortunate in that I have had mostly positive experiences in getting through milestones. I did well at proposal acceptance as well as our HDR Conference. I also received positive feedback from case study participants as to the worth of the research that I am doing. Even set backs with regards to access that required I reassess how my research methodology was going to work was not something too daunting, and I was able to reframe my approach to meet the limitations that I had encountered.

However the writing always bugged me. I have been back and forth between people that have said that my writing style is straightforward and easy to read (very positive in some people’s opinions in academia) and others that say my writing lacks the academic weight (they would say gravitas) that is required in writing at PhD level. I’ve been trying to argue for the inclusion of stories, as that is a key part of the cultural/sociological aspect of my research, and have met reactions to this that vary from extremely negative to those that just don’t get it in the academic environment.

My writing has been my insecurity throughout this whole process, and now that I reflect on this, it probably overflows from my professional life as well. I have been requested to produce articles, however in writing professionally (in industry magazines) I am hesitant to put my opinion out there as an expert. I have done articles and such, however not with the frequency of some of my male counterparts. In writing for magazines, I am exposing myself to be criticised for my claim of expertise. I feel that I might be criticised for a variety of things – my writing style, my lack of specialisation in my career (although my career has been tremendously rich and fulfilling and I see every job that I have done as something that gives me a rick, holistic view of organisations), my lack of experience in one aspect of the topic that I am writing (although who can really claim to have a full view of every perspective?). These all lead to tremendous insecurities about writing and being criticised for what I am putting out in to the world.

However as the post stated:

As Leandra Medine, the founder of Manrepeller.com, says on her podcast “Monocycle,” “We have to reframe our methods of thinking. Because everything has the potential to be good. Everything has the potential to be seen as a learning experience and a tool of motivation to make us better.”

Ultimately, I think I need to adopt the perspective of writing as a conversation. This is different to my verbal conversation style. I have in the past tended to adopt what I call an absolute tense… where I have phrased questions as statements and invite people to contradict me. Somewhat confrontational, I guess. :-) I think with writing I am perhaps less certain and possibly very tentative, couching statements and limiting what I am willing to say about my perspective as a result, in case I am criticised.

What has resulted is me wandering around in the valley of shit – a phrase that is famous in PhD circles – where my confidence is at an all-time low. This is not helped by the fact that during the end of the write-up period we are generally trying to find a job. I have been told by many to hide my PhD research if I am applying outside of academia, so on top of the rejections, it makes me feel like the work I have done over the last few years has been for naught. Freaking awesome.

I need to work out how to frame this as a learning experience, focus on transferable skills, and just bloody write. I need to get over this paralysis.

This too shall pass, I guess. :-(

One thought on “Wandering through the Valley of Sh!t”

  1. […] am currently in the write up and editing stage, and in the midst of a tonne of reflection as the result of wandering through the valley of sh!t. To be honest, I’m probably more limping through this valley, as I am feeling the effects of […]

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