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helen-louise
baratron
baratron
yargle (thesis news (lots of swearing)).
I am knackered. Although I have been claiming for weeks that I needed to do something to sort out the mess left by my PhD, I only actually started doing Useful Stuff on Wednesday night. Since then, I have read 5 or 6 papers & someone else's first-year report, skimmed one-and-a-half academic books, and read two chapters of another in full. I am understanding stuff that I never understood in all the time I was officially at college, just because I have a (semi-) functioning brain now. I have pages and pages of notes that will need only minimal rewriting to become pages of thesis.

But I am still stuck with a deadline of the first or second week in January (I need to check the exact date) to submit a finished thesis - which I know can't happen. (I started to type out an explanation of why I have that deadline, and found that I still don't want to talk about it). So I'm giving myself a deadline of two weeks, in which to write a chunk of thesis and go to my erstwhile supervisor, to see if there is anything he can do. I know it is theoretically possible for me to withdraw from the exam and re-enter, with a different thesis title and different examiners - but to even consider that I need to show something concrete, something more substantial than promises, as I've failed to keep them so many times already.

And today, a general bombshell turned up in the form of a textbook found in Waterstone's, published a few months ago, half of which is exactly what would have been in half of my PhD thesis had I been in a state to write one. I don't know whatthefuck this means. It may mean it really is impossible for me to ever get a PhD with the work I've done, as you need to demonstrate that it is original material, and it's hard to prove something is original when someone else has published the same thing. Or then again, it might already have been impossible for me to get a PhD with this work, and I need to cut my losses and go for the MPhil. But even if I can only get an MPhil, I want to write up my thesis properly, not as a rush job.

I said I was knackered at the start of this, but I'm only physically tired. Mentally, I'm supercharged. I feel passionate about what I'm doing. It makes sense: I can see why it's worth studying (something I never actually saw while I was a student). I am totally and utterly in love with chemistry in general and my branch of it in particular in a way I haven't been since the third year of my first degree (that would be 1997). I know for certain that even if I can't stay in research or if it proves to be genuinely bad for me to stay in research that I want to teach: I want to do a PGCE and teach chemistry in sixth-form or adult education. Illness of one sort of another has screwed up my life for too long - it's time to actually do something now.

But all the time I'm not working, I'm terrified. There are, obviously, only so many hours a day I can do work - there are only so many hours a day that my brain can concentrate for after so long being a useless gelatinous mess. I want to achieve so badly it hurts. But I don't have enough fucking time or enough fucking money. If I could do some of my life over, I would - just stopping the mistakes that have got my degree into this mess.

Advice, if I can give it. If you're supposedly doing a degree and you're not enjoying it; you're depressed, and can't concentrate, and it's a drudge rather than fun, stop. Get a proper medical certificate signing you out from the course indefinitely, and make sure your department and your university and your funding body all understand the reasons why you're stopping. In time, you'll find that either you're fired up and motivated by your subject again, or you know for certain it was the wrong thing to do. The difficulty here lies in determining whether you're making the decision rationally. Wait until you're definitely better from depression - not when you think you should be better.

You can't get rid of a mental illness by wishing yourself better. I tried that for four or five years, and all it did was make me frustrated. In that time, I hated my degree subject and thought it was all a pointless waste of time. So I dragged things out, not wanting to break it off completely, but not having any motivation to finish it either. I shouldn't have done that. I still don't know what happened to make me better, other than I stopped hopelessly wishing to get better and started figuring out what my problems were. If I had broken off from my degree properly, got myself medically signed-out, I would be able to go back in now and be a properly registered student, and get funding and all the help that's given to students. As it is, well outside the four-year cut-off, I'm classed as a failure, living on the £6 an hour I get from my part-time job and handouts from my dad and my boyfriend while trying to write up. And I'm lucky that I have a dad and boyfriend to give me money - if I didn't, I couldn't consider sorting this out.

But it takes more than a week to sort out five years of fuck-ups. The easiest thing to do is not to fuck-up in the first place, which is why I give you the above advice.

Anyway, I digressed enormously. And I've been writing for long enough that I've stopped being knackered and want to go and read my new pollution book. (Read a pollution book! At 2am! Well, okay, 2am is a usual time for me - but I've been getting up in the morning the past week or so!).

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Comments
sashajwolf From: sashajwolf Date: 11th November 2002 23:30 (UTC) (Link)
I'm really glad you've got the passion back, and I wish you luck figuring out what to do.
From: taimatsu Date: 11th November 2002 23:51 (UTC) (Link)
Yay! I'm really glad you've got your oomph back. I'm making some decisions about my course at the moment, and things are looking better :)∞
alexmc From: alexmc Date: 12th November 2002 01:36 (UTC) (Link)

Encouraging Noises

I don't pretend to understand the PhD system, but I agree with a previous commenter who said "talk to your supervisor" and add "talk to anybody who knows about it". It must be a fairly common occurence for two PhD students to be working on similar things... or for the situation you describe to happen.

I'm going through a mini mid-life crisis myself as the career which I spent three years in college studying for, and ten years of my life working in seems to have disappeared.

I'm considering doing factory work to *help* pay the mortgage whilst I look for proper work.

I'll write more in my own live journal....

Later

Alex
thekumquat From: thekumquat Date: 12th November 2002 02:28 (UTC) (Link)

hear hear

...having been in a similar situation on a smaller scale, I completely agree with you. I have no idea how I suddenly clicked back into my work - I think it was finally getting some encouragement from my new supervisor who merely said "Hey - you can write a thesis from scratch in two months - two weeks for checking through it - no problem. You can do it." This was the first encouragement I'd had from someone who knew what they were talking about in over 3 years...

The requirement for originality isn't that great nowadays, particularly in sciences. If you've done the same thing in even a slightly different way, and refer to how nicely your work matches this new stuff in your discussion, I would guess it would be OK [insert disclaimer here].

Good luck with it, and very glad to hear you're mostly feeling better.
barakta From: barakta Date: 12th November 2002 08:21 (UTC) (Link)
Hi,

Know that feeling of getting into something that i really cared about... Changing my first degree (incidentally from chemistry) to Information studies was one of the best things I ever did.

Last year of uni (my 2nd of info studies) was horrible, I just didn't enjoy any of it, it was one crappy group project after another, and my health mostly physical fell apart, then in Jan my parents split up in a very nasty way, and brought up a load of shit I'd thought long gone (hahahahaha) and dragged me into definite situational depression.

I didn't even register for this years uni, I started to cry everytime I thought of doing the year with a unstable shoulder, affecting my ability to type or lift anything, and on a bad day move. I managed to persuade my mum I would go back, when the shoulder is fixed - hopefully next year; and that i loved my degree, but I wasn't enjoying it now cos I was too fucked.

Ok so I have the financial burden of living as a pseudo student for a year, but its better than failing my degree because I can't sustain even a tiny percentage of the typing level I'd need, not to mention the livingness in Sheffield.

I'm now in Canterbury being mostly looked after and I feel so much better. I have a supportive medical team in London who appreciate I need to get much done this year and that the evil surgery will knock me flat. If I am well enough in Sept I will go back, and do fucking well in my degree. If I am not well enough I will defer another year.

I'm sorry to hear of all the PhD hassle, cos I know from close friends how much work is involved, and if u fall off the rails you're even more stuffed.

Good luck with PhD writeup of whatever status its in, I hope you get what you want, and I could see you being a very good chemistry teacher, my first chemistry teacher got me into it, but my maths didn't work.... I remember my chemistry teacher saying she loved chemistry, but she knew she wasn't capable of the PhD level, but I think she did her best work in the classroom inspiring hundreds of us instead. (Reminds me I must write to her).

At the end of the day, if we break ourselves (physically, emotionally, mentally) then we're fuck all use to anyone including ourselves... We just have to ignore the snipes of those who have good health, and accept the reassurance of friends

Hugs
Natalya
baratron From: baratron Date: 15th November 2002 18:05 (UTC) (Link)

Thanks for your long post and the support. I missed you at BiCon this year - hope you'll be there sometime in the future.

As a random thought, if living in Sheffield is contributing to the problem, is it possible to transfer your course to Canterbury and do the final year there? Apologies if this is entirely useless as a suggestion.
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