PhD Diary: Léan Ní Chléirigh

Contributed by Léan Ní Chléirigh of Trinity College Dublin

booksDo you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? I’m not sure it’s either, I love it but to call it a vocation implies that somehow my PhD will make a difference and unless your a medieval ethnographer (and maybe even if you are) it won’t.

In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD? I genuinely can’t remember, I thought I might be good at it…

Léan’s diary: I have just started my fourth year of research and have had to take stock of what I have done with the last three years of my life, which took about five minutes. I am one of those poor souls whose PhD morphed dramatically in the beginning of third year and as a result some of my first two years’ work became redundant and I was left with only 15,000 words to my name. I know now that it was for the best but I cried for a month when it happened (Oversharing? Anyone who tells you they haven’t cried over their PhD is lying or has no soul). A friend told me one day that when you took into account the bits I had written which were now redundant, I had actually written 80,000 words already. This was a vain attempt to convince me that I was fully capable of completing in the four years, but in my hysterical state I took it rather badly and he is, sadly, no longer with us.  A more productive way to deal with my wasted words was to present them at conferences and turn them into articles which I have been fortunate enough to do.

Fourth year is the time when, as well as trying to finish and cursing your former self for having a life in years one to three, you begin to contemplate life after PhD. This vision takes many forms. Sometimes it involves ice cream, pyjamas, ‘Diagnosis Murder’ and mid-afternoon naps. More often however, it depicts me frantically trying to get teaching hours, filling out job and Post-doc applications, writing articles and working part time to buy food. The most common thing I have heard from people who finished their thesis last year was, ‘I though things were supposed to calm down after you submit!’ The thing I am dreading most is explaining to various relatives that ‘no, I haven’t got a job yet.’ (One of my Grandmothers is labouring under the illusion that when you finish a PhD, your supervisor gives you a job.)

It’s not all doom and gloom however. Because of the tight schedule your work methods become streamlined and the days in which you used to spend chasing references which proved to be red herrings are severely curtailed by the panic which now consumes you. It turns out you can write 4,000 words in one day when 300 used to be the point at which you would pat yourself on the back and go home. It is also the year when your partner/family need to be mobilised for the inevitable emotional breakdowns and most unacceptable behaviour on your part can be blamed on the pressures of having to finish your thesis. Stand by for some tantrums…

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