PhD – An Impossible Task?

In Albert Camus book “The Plague” there is a character called Joseph Grand.  Joseph Grand is writing a novel, he has been writing it for years but has never got past the first sentence.  He constantly writes and re-writes the first sentence, never finding the right words, revising each word.  He knows if he gets it right the resulting work will be a masterpiece, but he is word anxious and nothing flows.

I always considered Joseph Grand a figure of fun, someone to laugh at, a bit of comedic relief in a tale of death and disease.  However, it has been dawning on me in the last few months that Joseph Grand is a much more sympathetic character than I imagined.  I am caught in a trap of re-writing and revising.  I feel my project has lost direction and I don’t seem to be able to get it back on track.  The thought of the amount of work I have to do terrifies me, I can’t think and every time my thoughts do drift towards the PhD I panic, I mean proper panic, where I feel I can’t breathe.  My family and friends have (thankfully) stopped asking me how it is going because I can no longer talk about it.  I feel totally rudderless.

Recently I have been thinking about whether or not I should even continue.  Would it be better to give it up and move on to something else?  Should I just chalk this up to one of those things that did not work out, like a failed love affair or a novel that is just not worth reading?

I love being at the University, I love the students, the projects, the teaching.  These are the things that are driving me on, giving me a reason to get up and come in.  The PhD just seems like a mountain I cannot climb.

It was never going to be easy.

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4 responses to “PhD – An Impossible Task?

  1. As someone who got her PhD, trust me when I say that this is all a part of the process. A ‘test’, if you will, to see if you really have what it takes and really want to achieve it. Keep pushing through. If you need to take a break from it for a little while and shift your energy to something else that exercises another part of your brain, then by all means, do it! When you’re ready to come back to it, you will come back energized and ready to punch it out. Also try to keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect or absolutely ground-breaking. The dissertation is really just an exercise to teach you how to perform all aspects of a research study well. Also, when it comes to writing, know that that doesn’t have to be perfect either, especially the first draft. Just focus on getting everything down on paper. It doesn’t matter if you’re using the same phrases over and over again or if you’re writing at the reading level of a 6 year old. Just get it down on paper and you can go back later and spruce it up. When I was in the writing phase, I set goal of getting a certain number of pages written per day (I think it was around 7-8). By no means was it well-written, it was horrible! But I got all of my thoughts, past research, and findings down on paper. Then, I went back and cleaned it up. Good luck and reach out if you ever need someone to talk to about the process!

    • Thank you for your comment. It has been wonderful the amount of support I have received and I am changing my mind about giving up!

      I just have to keep at it and plough on.

  2. Lord Sculliwag of the Shire

    I can imagine that if you were to drop out, it would have happened already. A friend of mine was overwhelmed in the first semester of his MSc and had to drop out and rearrange his life rather drastically. I am sure that being in the autumnal stage of your PhD the feelings that you experience are perfectly normal.

    I recommend coffee with friends, poetry and books about beautiful charts particularly pie charts.

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