In a story, struggle can provide the backdrop against which happiness can be experienced more fully. Certainly academic work, particularly scientific discovery, is so often framed as some kind of heroic story where the researcher struggles towards knowledge.
Consider the the discovery of H. Pylori, a simple stomach bacteria, plays in stomach ulcers a topic close to my heart because I got one during my PhD. The way this discovery is recounted in the media often echoes the plot types Booker talks about. Throughout the 20th century, German researchers tried in vain to get the scientific community interested in the idea that stomach complaints were not nervous complaints, but diseases with bacterial origins Tragedy.
Dr Marshall our hero deliberatly infects himself with the bacteria to demonstrate the efficacy of antibiotics overcoming the monster. Fame, fortune and Nobel Prizes follow — your classic happy ending. There are numerous other examples of this type of mythologising: Marie Curie, Einstein, the discovery of penicillian and so on and on.
Foucault, Derrida and the like. There is no inherant problem with mythologising, but I think we need to be careful of framing all academic work this way. While struggle itself can be a good thing, productive of discovery and change, I would argue that excessive struggle, to no purpose, is not. But in the end I suppose, you can stand on top of the Mountain for Happy for a little while.
Eventually you must trudge back down into the Valley, where all the really interesting stuff happens. If you could tell the story of your PhD would it be one of stuggle? Can you tell the story in another way perhaps? The Valley of Shit. NPR just did a piece about the cultural understanding and perception of struggle in learning http: When I reach out and ask for help, I get it from my faculty and academic colleagues.
But, if I get mired down and forget to ask for help, the struggle overpowers and overwhelms me. I appreciate that you see struggle as both a positive and a negative.
This creates a problem because finishing the journey holds less appeal. Life back in the shire seems a very mediocre experience. Post doctoral submission blues…. I kind of like what I do as a PhD. I miss my PhD now. Could you give me a more detailed reference please so I can locate it. I believe that I have another way to look at this issue. I have spent my whole life training to be an elite musician and due to not being quite good enough, quite lucky enough, quite calm enough… whatever, this did not come to pass.
After a while I began to see all the complexity, beauty and variety of effective teaching and this lead eventually to my PhD research. What you said really resonated with me. It was only when I decided to relinquish all my black designer clothes and embrace the inner teacher that I became professionally happy… Ooh — I feel another post coming on now. I think we all have a failed someone inside, perhaps that is why is so difficult to complete the PhD.
The fear of failure is the biggest burden. We just have to remember Beckett and definitely fail better, because eventually, as Eleanor just said, all the failed ghost will dissapear. Hi Inger, I love your blog and it always leaves me with plenty to think about, and often to implement in my own PhD studies.
Doing my PhD is even better than I thought it would be and I have wanted to do one for about as long as I knew what they were. I have so many questions and it is beyond wonderful to be able to find the answers or the start of new questions. I love the intellectual rigour of academic research. And the sheer indulgence of having the time to find out what you want to know.
And to write about it, and re-write and learn to communicate more effectively and engagingly. But this experience is exactly what I wanted. This is lovely to read! I think it is good to remember how privileged we are.
My problem throughout the thesis was self-doubt and an inability to get the support I needed. I stumbled across a link between my work on oral cultures and the purpose of Stonehenge and similar sites around the world.
I gave up the contract offer from my publisher on my original topic — very hard to do as a writer — and wallowed in the mire of self-doubt for four years to take the risk. My supervisor then took the risk of inviting very highly respected archaeologists to examine, knowing their tick of approval would be worth gold to me, but that they would also be reluctant to pass such a radical thesis unless it was solid. I got their ticks three weeks ago, and permission to use their names. The archaeologists wrote very long reports giving exactly the advice I had been seeking, which will serve me wonderfully for the future.
Minor changes and it is all through and I have passed. So from the heights of the Hill, I sent out my first proposal to the top of the academic publishing list on Tuesday, quoting from the examiners reports. I got a reply Wednesday morning yes, the next day! No idea if it will result in a contract, but if they are interested, then those further down the list will be too and I suddenly feel confident it will be published and I will research and write on this topic for the rest of my life.
Totally relate to the valley of happiness as I also walked across the stage to accept my PhD testumur from the Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.
My children cheered loudly very loudly which made some people laugh. My PhD journey was largely spent in the Valley of Shit and my was there a lot of it and to this day I am still not sure that I have cleaned it all up as it seems to linger with certain things bringing back the memories. But the writing of such a document must be assisted by the best of professionals to achieve the desired success.
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