This week was a supervision week for me, and those weeks tend to be a mix of:
a) nerves about what my supervisors will say about my most recent efforts
b) relief at knowing a few days beforehand that I’ve submitted work, and there’s not much more I can do until after the meeting and
c) dread and motivation (in equal measure) as an outcome of the meeting
Luckily for me, I had the ideal activity to do the following day – an activity that would blow any cobwebs away, one that would keep my mind off my workload even if just for a short time, and last but not least…one that I could get a blog post out of.
What was I doing? I was careering around a golf course in a golf buggy. I’d been asked a few weeks ago to help out at a college golf event and, being a non-golfer but someone who likes a day out of the office, I had agreed. I had assumed I’d be spending the day hanging around and taking queries from prospective students. A little bit of clever positioning, however, gets you the job of photographer’s chauffeur and the key to the golf buggy. In true phdonderer style, about halfway round the course, as I turned and noticed the look of fear on my passenger’s face, it hit me – even a ride in a golf buggy was like doing a PhD. Don’t believe me? Let me explain.
Now, I don’t know if this is the case with all golf buggies, but ours was a left-hand drive. In Scotland, we are not familiar with being on the ‘other’ side. As a PhD student, it can also feel as though you’ve found yourself in unfamiliar territory. It stands to reason that you’re unlikely to do a PhD if you’ve not enjoyed, or not been particularly good, at studying in the past. So, when you go from being a ‘good’ undergraduate student to an ‘average’ PhD student, it can seem a little alien. A few feet down the path, however, you get used to being on the other side, and it becomes almost natural.
Being the one holding the steering wheel might seem a little scary to begin with, but, you’re probably in a better position than those you have brought along for the ride. Your passengers have nothing other than you on which to cling. I’m not just thinking friends and family at this point; I’m thinking supervisors. They are the ones whose names and professional identities will be linked to yours – if you mess up, they don’t look as good as if you do well. I reckon my supervisors keep their fingers crossed a lot of the time.
Every time you get to a tricky bit, a hill that you’re going up almost sideways, one wrong move could see you fall out. There’s no door to keep you in, no safety net if it all goes horribly wrong. However, just as you think you’ll never make it, somehow your foot goes to the floor, and you get over that hill – you might look a bit windswept, but you made it, and now you’re ready for the next one.
If you’ve ever driven around a golf course in a buggy (or if you play golf), you’ll have seen golfers standing around, walking for miles and generally taking their time. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have wondered how anybody could have so much time to spare. I am always in a hurry, and I rarely do fewer than two things at any one time. I’m not sure if it’s me that’s doing it wrong or the golfers.
I knew before my supervision meeting that the work I had submitted was not my best, but I also knew that I had done as much as I could do and that I needed to stop. In the run-up to my meeting, I had re-read what I had submitted, and I started to add bits and pieces. I had made a critical error after submitting my work – I hadn’t given myself time away from what I had written. By the time of our meeting, I had scribbles on my draft that even I couldn’t read, and I had started to doubt that my literature review would ever come together. In my panic, I had misread my own schedule and convinced myself that I was about six months behind. Thankfully, it was just that – panic. I am still on track, and I’m still making progress. It’s slow, but it’s going in the right direction.
Perhaps I should take a leaf out of the golfers’ book. Maybe I do need to slow down at times. On the other hand, I have a PhD to do, so maybe I’ll keep going. There’ll be plenty of time after the PhD to slow down – I might even take up golf.
P.S. Ok, I admit, I’ll never take up golf…but I might invest in a golf buggy.