Monday, 1 February 2010

when i grow up



There's this relentless drumming voice inside my head. It goes a little something like this: PhD thesis submission in eight months. Over and over. You know how often men supposedly think about sex? That's how much I think about my PhD. It's frightful, really. The funniest thing though is that everyone seems completely astonished that I would rather stab HB pencils in my eyes than stay at King's for another year. I finished a four-year high school degree in three years and I finished a four-year University degree in three years. There is no way in hell that I'm finishing a three-year PhD programme in four years. I love my research - I love research in general - but I don't want to still be doing it this time next year. I've finally, pretty much, mostly decided that I don't want to stay in academia anymore and now that I've realised there's this whole, huge unexplored world out there - I can't wait to figure out what I want to do next. To think that I'd have to wait another year before being able to get out there and make some noise doesn't really appeal to me. And besides, I don't have any reason to stay another year - apart from the fact that I changed my topic after the first year and had to throw a year's worth of work away - but let's not speak of such things. When I was first starting, a friend of mine said that the most important part of doing a PhD was the research - not the teaching, not the paper giving - just the research. I took his advice quite literally and hardly did any teaching or conference-going, and now that I've finally, pretty much, mostly decided that I don't want to stay in academia (I adore the research element, but find most of the rest of it fairly restrictive) I'm so glad that my PhD primarily comprised three years of solid research.

I suppose my biggest problem with the academic world is that it encourages an extremely limited field of interest. I don't understand when or why research came to mean restriction. This is certainly not true for all of my colleagues, but I'm regularly astonished by the lack of interest academics show for any field or even subject outside their immediate research interest. As the kind of person who wants to know everything about everything, I don't understand why anyone would purposefully choose to cut themselves off from so many other areas of interesting information. The other thing that drives me crazy is a distinct lack of collaboration. Again, this is generalising to some extent, and if you work in a lab I'm sure the experience is quite different, but the closest most academics get to creative collaboration is jointly organising a conference or putting together an edited volume of papers. There's something profoundly clich├ęd about this, but working on a weekly magazine has introduced me to the joys of interacting with a team of incredibly bright, creative and dynamic people. It's such a nice thing to sit down together with people who have ideas and are knowledgeable about a variety of subjects and can bring all that knowledge to the table in order to enhance the quality of their professional work. An awful lot of academics don't have this breadth of knowledge - hardly surprising given that they've been working on the same, focused subject area for the last 15 years.

It's important that my work lets me to be creative, work with a group of inspiring people, and gives me free rein to pursue a wide range of interests. What that will be, I have no idea. But once I finish this damn PhD, I'll have plenty of time to figure it out. Having said that, suggestions on a postcard are most welcome...

2 comments:

The Lyrical Designer said...

i hope it goes well for you! my husband is also studying for his Phd and i am going bonkers!!
i suggest you do something crazy after it. Just to get back to normalcy again. LOL

Mohan Arun L (@marun2 on Twitter) said...

Interesting reading! If you approach your PhD with the right mindset you should be able to complete it and be free 'by this time next year'! Hope you read this article here - http://www.cs.ucla.edu/~palsberg/azuma.html. Its entitled "So Long, and thanks for the Phd!" and chronicles the mindset of a student as he went through Phd in comp sci.