Dear Thesis: I understand you…at last.

I had an ‘ah ha’ moment today.  It came not as a beam of light from above but as a quiet, deliberate ‘click’.

The switch is on.

It occurred during a Vitae event I attended today called “Effective Researcher: Effective progress for 2nd year* doctoral researchers” lead by the engaging and interactive Dr. Dave Filipović-Carter.  It was a brilliant day spent getting us (2nd and 3rd year PhDs) to clarify where we are in the doctoral process and offered some highly practical tools to think about in order to get us planning the next stage.  I nearly decided to skip this day and stay in bed since it was raining hard here in Manchester. In June. Again.

For the past few weeks I’ve been buried under a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with my PhD which made me feel considerably unmotivated.  I mean that level of unmotivation that gets you wandering aimlessly doing busy work but not actually on your PhD.  Avoiding the problem? You betcha.  Existential tunnel vision of what’s-the-meaning-of-it-all musings? Oh yeah.  So I knew that I needed to get out and do something different to shake me out of my inaction.  Attending this event seemed like a pretty good idea.

I was very, very glad I braved the rain!  I came with the expectation that I would take away something that would help me get writing this damn thesis.  Like something on how to organise it or whatever.  Little did I expect that I would actually discover the focus of my thesis.  In other words, I found the answer to my research question.

Dave presented us with a question “What is the thesis of your Thesis?” where thesis is the actual argument and Thesis refers to the shape/organisation of the manuscript.  It was a curious question that I asked myself which went a little like this:

*pen in hand, staring at question on PPT slide and frowning”
(in my head) “Well, what is the answer to my research question?”
“Wait, what is my research question again?”
*proceeds to write down thoughts, and forms a different formulation of previous research question*
*re-reads ‘new’ research question*
“Yes, that’s it!”
*proceeds to write down answer to new research question*
“OMG, that’s it! THAT’S IT! Damn it! That’s it!”
*re-reads what was written, and feels the fog lift*

I’ve been struggling with what exactly I’m talking about in my thesis.  Contrary to popular belief it is NOT the most obvious thing.  As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s true (in my case).  Amidst the vortex of information/data/advice/ideas that have been circulating in my head these past 2 years (!) the central argument was just not there simply because I haven’t made the decision on the direction this thesis was taking.  Is it easy to make that sort of decision? No. Is it easy to realise that you have to make that choice in order to move forward? No.

This afternoon, however, I did, and suddenly that vortex wasn’t such a gaping black hole but began to look like an image.  It was as if I finally understood what it was that I looking at, or rather, I finally understood the image I was trying to create.

It was an amazing moment.

I understand it. I understand my thesis at last.

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