Why I Decided to do a Ph.D.

I had a meeting with one of my supervisors last week.  She asked me to read the Introduction and Chapter 1 of my thesis, and mark the places where I can insert the passages that the examiners want me to make according to the first page of the viva report.  I can start rewriting straight away, but she encouraged me not to, and suggested that after marking the places where new passages need to be inserted will I know what to delete.

I think this was a good suggestion, because I planned an overhaul for the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Conclusion, and this would probably have made the rewriting process more overwhelming than it needs to be. She said I wrote a good thesis, so while it is important to do EXACTLY what the examiners have asked me to do, I also need to show faith in my work and not overdo the corrections.

I appreciated this meeting as it helped me put the correction process into perspective.  Although I’m still hurt and feeling antagonistic towards the examiners and the viva report, I am more ready to move forwards than I was a couple of weeks back.  If I do exactly what the examiners have asked me to do, there is no reason I wouldn’t get the Ph.D.

But what if my corrections aren’t good enough?  My examiners said I articulated my argument very well in the viva. Shouldn’t this prove that I know the issues and debates in my field, and that I am capable of doing research?  If they’ve already heard what my thesis is about, will my corrections really satisfy them the second time?  The unknown factor of having my six years of work lie in the hands of two academics who didn’t pass me the first time worries me.  I’m one of those people who tend to lose appetite when they’re anxious, so I have to remind myself to eat enough, especially since I need the energy for aerial.

But apart from the viva report and having to pay full-time tuition, the hardest thing to combat is the feeling of being abandoned and worthlessness. There is a lot of valuable and accessible information out there about how to lead a Ph.D. life or how to write a thesis, but very little on how to pick yourself up from major corrections. It is understandable though. Nobody likes to remember failure, consequently not much has been written about what to do if you fall into the unfortunate category of major corrections.

Unfortunate category of major corrections...

Fallen to the darkness of major corrections…

The lack of information makes me feel I have done something wrong and shameful.  I was confident that I was making a critical intervention in my field, and that my work is original.  I believed in what I wrote.  However, now it seems that presentation and writing technicalities are more important than the argument itself.  Even though it’s quite late in the process, I’m wondering why I decided to do a Ph.D. at all.

I guess I’m asking myself this question over and over again to convince myself that I need to stick with the correction process.  Before the Ph.D., I had three years of working experience as a marketing assistant at a technological company, and later as an assistant editor in a publishing company.  I could do my job well, but felt I wasn’t putting in enough effort.  I hated the monotonous schedule of being stuck in an office nine-to-six Monday to Friday.  I couldn’t bear the idea of sitting in an office for the next five years.

This is when I began to contemplate at the possibility of doing a Ph.D.  An academic job would be hard, but at least I wouldn’t be stuck indoors every day of the week.  The winter and summer holidays also provide working flexibility envied by other office jobs.  I did my master’s degree on American and English literature, and after graduating I had vowed to never, ever go into academia again.  Yet I overruled my own decision, and here I am.

So my reasons for doing a Ph.D. were quite practical.  I was always interested in visual culture and identity issues, so I made the transition from literature to film.  Having a three year break from academia, I needed time to adjust to being a student again.  At the beginning everything I read made sense.  I panicked that others had already written what I wanted to say, and that there would be no originality in my research.  I remember it was in one of our first year meetings when one of my supervisors said that I need to look at my cultural context metacritically, and I wondered what she meant by “metacritical.”

It wasn’t until my third year that I began to grasp my own argument, and be able to hear my critical voice amongst others.  My thesis criticizes discourses of nationalism and analyzes how identity is projected in historical films.  I thought my research was really filling a gap seldom discussed in my field, and should also be communicated to the public.  This is when I felt I was ready to teach.

I think my reasons for doing a Ph.D. have come from being highly practical, to highly idealistic, to cynical, and now I’m trying to find the balance between these approaches.  I don’t have the answer to whether doing a Ph.D. is worth it yet, especially considering the bleak prospect of the current academic job market.  I think this blogpost from Right Scholarship has put it sadly but incredibly well, “… perhaps [university] shouldn’t have been touted for so long as the key to happiness, prosperity and the betterment of society.”  Is it too late to look back?

I made a choice several years ago, so I need to finish what I’ve started.


2 responses »

  1. Sounds like you are almost there. Treat it as a straightforward assignment and finish it off! Lots of PhD students face setbacks, although few talk about them. It’s easy to lose confidence through overanalysis of criticism of your work, from yourself or from others.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words. As you can see I really liked your post “Knowledge is Cheap,” so I quoted from it. I’m slowly developing a healthier attitude towards the correction process, and, as you put it, also trying to treat it as a straightforward assignment. Thank you for reading!


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