I gave myself the day off yesterday.  No studying, no reading, not a PhD-related word was spoken…until conversations started to flow about the Escape Room experience my friends and I had just completed.  It turns out, you can take the girl out of the PhD, but you cannot take the PhD out of the girl.  What could the two things have in common?  Quite a lot, actually.

First, you sign up to play, pay for the privilege, and then you realise that you are, in fact, locked in.  You could just ask to get out, but you’ve told people you’re doing it, you know people are watching your progress, and you don’t want to give up and look stupid.  You quickly start to realise that you might not get out in the allocated time.

Now you’re in there, and you’ve got work to do.  Where should you start? There’s so much to look at. At every turn, there’s something else looking interesting and trying to divert your attention from the task at hand.  You must make a plan, try your hardest to stick to it, and try and avoid the lure of the irrelevant.

The whole way through, you’re intent on solving your own little piece of the puzzle.  It can be all-too-easy to forget that, all around you, other people are working on and finding answers to other parts.  It’s important to keep a careful eye on both your own work and the work of others – the last thing you want after working so hard is to find that someone already solved your bit of the puzzle without you noticing.

Similarly, you need to keep telling people what you have achieved, so they don’t do the same thing.  There’s no point in re-doing old work – you’re part of a community, and everybody’s individual achievements should somehow push everyone else forward with their own work.

You know you have lots of little tasks to do before you get to the big things. While all you really want to do is solve the big puzzle, you know deep down that, if you head straight for it, it’ll be unsolvable because the building blocks you need to get you through are missing. 

People will deal with the situation differently.  While some might display the rabbit-in-headlights look, others might look calm or excited.  Somebody will always look as though the whole thing is a bit of a hassle.  Nobody knows how they will deal with the situation in advance because the whole situation is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

I can’t tell you how it feels to complete a PhD – that’s quite a long way off.  If it feels anything like completing the Escape Room, however, I’ll be tired, proud, and ready for a pint.  Unlike the Escape Room, though, I’ll probably not be willing to sign up for round 2.

I’ve ended up having the whole weekend off, but I think I needed it.  Over the past two weeks, I have managed to develop my strategy for the literature review. I’ve figured out what I’m looking for, where, why, and how.  I’ve started categorising, putting articles in order, and decided on my note-taking matrix. Over the next week, I’ll be reading and note-taking.  It’s going to be the most organised reading and note-taking I’ve ever done, and at the end, for once, I’m going to have a set of notes that are systematic, clear and that will be helpful when it’s time to write.

With special thanks to Locked In Edinburgh

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