Metaphoric motherhood: me and my baby Thesis

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This blog post is inspired by all the cute baby pictures and statuses that my friends post on various social networks. I kept looking at them for weeks, until this morning I thought that I also have that special little one, that gives me a rainbow of feelings every single day, but of which I am increasingly proud.

My baby was born at the end of September. Her name is Thesis. This name derives from ancient Greek and means “setting down”. It didn’t take me long to come up with this name – I guess I always knew what the name of my first child would be. It took me longer to think about all the related details, such as the country where she would grow, things that I would like her to learn and other defining characteristics. My little Thesis is not even yet “set down”, but I am looking at her growing up, watching how her features slowly but surely develop, and it makes me a happy and proud mom. Those who never had a child don’t know what they are missing.

I am raising my child alone, which is a difficult task. I could not do without the help of my Godmother, who is often there to provide motherhood advice and guidance. She is there to support me on the days when I question my ability of being a good mother, and there to cheer for me when my baby Thesis smiles at me or learns something new. I found that I like dressing my baby Thesis up – one day she wears a red dress, then another day she’s all white and the only colour I see is her dark eyes blinking at me. As she grows, though, she starts to develop a character herself and with her little fingers points me to the cloth that she would like to wear today. She seems to not really fancy that white dress much…

Thesis is still very small and young, but she is starting to develop her personality and curiously look at the world in front of her. She is shy and has yet not seen many people, but in a couple of months I will start introducing her to the wider family, beginning to detach her from myself. I can imagine this will not be an easy process, but, after all, who said motherhood was easy? Baby Thesis learns, and, standing by her side, I learn together. My baby grows and I grow together. And then one day, I will need to learn how to let her go and be independent. Sleepless nights beside her cradle will turn into sleepless nights thinking whether the new life experiences are making her become better. Motherhood will acquire a whole new meaning and yet remain a rainbow of feelings. I cannot wait to see my baby’s first steps.

 Tomorrow you will leave…
I cannot go with you.
You will be alone in this journey –
I cannot come.
It will last long
And your path will be uncertain.
But the warmth of my love
Will be your cover.

From: Fiorella Mannoia “In the journey” – mother’s song to her daughter

A glimpse at life revolving

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Your PhD friend breaks two fingers and one of the first things she thinks of while nearly fainting from pain is that she will not be able to submit a draft on time.

Then you realise that, had you broken those fingers, one of your first thoughts would also have been to let the supervisor know.

Then you return from the hospital just to discover that another PhD friend who saw it all happening had also thought that the poor friend who broke her fingers will not be able to write.

While waiting to see the doctor, you joke with your friend about a possible ethnographic study on the patients’ experiences of the NHS.

You make your friend talk about her research to distract her from pain during the endless (literally!) wait.

And once you both return home past midnight, you make half-serious jokes about stopping at the office. Not only because you are both starving and you’ve only got food in the office fridge. But also… to possibly get some work done.

 

Life revolves around our PhDs, we love it and we laugh about it. I guess, this is also part of the identity transformation process.

Reflections after two months of PhD

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So here I am, finally writing my second blog entry.

Those lovely promises that I made in my first post, that go along the lines of writing every week to remember every moment of my PhD journey, happily crashed once the real journey begun and I cannot stop feeling guilty for every moment spent not working. Blog, unfortunately, still counts as not working in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong – I do procrastinate, just perhaps in less meaningful ways than keeping track of my life as a PhD student. For instance, last week my colleague and I discovered a scooter in our PhD office, which up until now leads to occasional (or maybe more than occasional) rides around the office, at least when it is not too full. Helps if anyone is feeling drowsy too! And then there is an attempt to have some social life, and to balance it with the PhD work. Even if I don’t mind working alone, having social commitments has proven to be a lifesaver. I was elected to the committee of the Postgraduate Society, and am one of the office bearers at our Staff/PG badminton club. Occasionally, I get a chance to travel too, though that has only happened twice so far (not counting a study-related seminar). This still seems a bit too often to me, but I couldn’t say no!

Life as a PhD student would be incredibly thoughtless and easy if it was limited to what I have just described. The above, really, are just a couple of moments of distraction from what I would turn into a 24/7 work week. I still can’t stop feeling guilty if I’m not sitting in front of my laptop/an article, which doesn’t always translate into productive work. I also feel like an absolute idiot for a lot of the time. At the moment this feeling is particularly strong – maybe because it is the beginning, maybe because I am now working on a topic about which I knew hardly anything before starting, and it just takes a long, looong time to put things together in my tiny little brain. Screw me for changing disciplines between my undergrad and Master’s/PhD. Moreover, sometimes it feels as if I have lost any ability to do research and write. Not having written anything since February makes me feel incredibly out of practice. The first two months have also brought me a methodological crisis, and an epic writer’s block, which I did not expect to come so early. It needed to go though, even if that meant resorting to an anticipated deadline and pulling I don’t know how many all-nighters to meet it. Well, I always wanted to see the sunrise over the sea, and I got to do that just a couple of days before my birthday! 🙂 I just have to keep repeating myself that I have never really been a beginnings’ person.

However, I spend a lot of time thinking back and smiling. I remember last year, when I was working on my proposal and whining “but this is so hard!”, a second-year PhD friend told me that this is the easiest thing I will ever get to write if I get accepted. On a theoretical level I knew she was right from the very beginning, but experiencing it by myself brings it to a whole new level. I sometimes wish I could simply write the proposal again. Or an essay. Any of the essays that seemed “so haaard” during my Master’s. I also remember my other PhD friends asking me “Are you sure you want this?” when I told them I was working on my research proposal. Now, I find myself asking my aspiring-PhD friends just the same question and sending them a picture of my desk at 4am so that they can think whether this is what they really want. And yet, I have never felt greater inner peace. I wish I was better at it, but at least I have my answers to the questions “why am I doing this?” and “are you sure you want this?”. I am living a dream, even if the question “How is it going?” confuses me lately, and I honestly don’t know what to say because the reality is just so overwhelming. To be fair, most of the new PhD students in my department pause just a moment too long before answering this question, and the answer is often “It’s going…” There seems to be a lot of community spirit around, which also extends to the community among students and staff who have all been there themselves. The first two months of my PhD have been tough, but I still cannot imagine myself anywhere else.

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(The wonderful morning when I saw the sunrise)

Instead of an introduction

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Here goes my very first blog entry. Technically, it’s not the first time I’m blogging – I used to own a blog when I was still in school, it even used to have its circle of readers. But then the university started and it was all forgotten. Now that I’m about to embark on a journey of my lifetime, a PhD, I decided to start a blog again. And this blog happens to be Academic In Progress.

The title is really just my vision of the future posts here – thoughts, struggles, victories, woes… more simply, life of an aspiring academic in training. Going for a PhD is something I’ve wanted for a long long time, and I realised I would love to remember as much as possible from this experience. I also came across the advice to start a blog on various internet forums for postgraduates: it helps you practice writing (or writing in English) and express your thoughts coherently. I am thankful to students who followed this advice, because reading their blogs was helpful to me. My programme only starts in September, so I hope I got a clearer understanding of what to expect (I’ll write sometime later whether this was actually true!). I also realised that all the doubts, insecurities and a general feeling of never knowing enough, all of which I experienced while writing my Master’s dissertation and later my research proposal, are normal. Or at least this is what it looks like. Knowing it only helps a little though – I think my ‘impostor syndrome’ is too deep-rooted at this point. Indeed, it creeped back in about a week after I got to know I won a place in the PhD programme and it looks like it’s here to stay. I’m yet to find a way to cope with it, but I will surely work very very hard so that nobody notices that I’m an impostor 🙂

I can only hope that this blog will someday comfort or enlighten others like some wonderful blogs did to me. But to me it will be a record of what it means to live a dream and be exactly where I want to be at this point of my life.