PhD Diary: Laura Kelly

Contributed by Laura Kelly, NUI Galway.

booksDo you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Vocation, definitely. Not wanting to sound like a complete nerd, but it’s too enjoyable to be classed as a job.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD: It seemed like a fun thing to do and the natural next step after my masters.

Laura’s Diary: Being in the second year of my PhD, I haven’t yet reached the scary, panic-ridden stages of third year which I am told await me. In first year, I felt like I was trying to find my feet; looking at the literature and doing some research while tentatively trying to network with people at conferences. Second year is a strange in-between stage: on one hand, you feel more confident about your work as chapters begin to take shape, but on the other, there is a constant fear of “am I doing enough?” combined with the regular self-imposed guilt-trips when you spend an hour on Facebook that could possibly have been spent writing ground-breaking new scholarship…or not.

A typical week is difficult to surmise and this is what makes doing a PhD very different to a job. One week, you might be in a dusty archive trying to decipher nineteenth-century handwriting, while the next week, you may be struggling to write something. You have the freedom to do something you really enjoy at your own pace while at the same time, you are bound by chapter deadlines, progress report submissions, and trying to send things off to journals (while praying that maybe someone, somewhere, will publish you). Additionally, there is always the fear of Life After My PhD looming at the back of your mind.

The PhD experience can be full of highs and lows. One moment you are bursting with enthusiasm as you discover something new you can include in your thesis, while the next, you may feel low, after criticism from a journal or that general feeling where your writing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. This seems to be the common pattern among other PhD students I have talked to. Overall, it’s very much a learning experience, but a really good one.

One of the most rewarding aspects of doing a PhD is that you get to meet lots of like-minded people, especially through conferences, where you may discover that you aren’t the only person interested in the cultural history of the cat. I have met lots of really interesting, nice people through my PhD and probably the same number of interesting, but completely mad, ones. However, it can be nice to occasionally talk to people outside of academia (i.e. normal people) to remind yourself that there is a world outside your PhD office.

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