Emotion and the PhD: a blog #followfriday

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what in the ANCIL research we’ve called the affective dimension of information – also known as the emotional impact of doing research, or (in ThesisWhisperer’s words) “the valley of shit“. The affective dimension is That Thing We Don’t Talk About, particularly in academic circles. We know anecdotally that crises of self-belief occur during the research process – as ScholasticRat‘s supervisor told her, you cannot achieve a PhD without undergoing a long dark night of the soul – and yet this particular threshold concept never seems to form part of a research methods course. It’s a dirty secret, passed along verbally by supervisors, postdocs or peers.

It seems to me that often this crisis is linked to the writing process. By the time we hit the PhD, we’re generally pretty good at sourcing and assimilating stuff (or we think we are: there can be quite a few surprises awaiting us there, too). We can read, we can notetake, we can store references, we can cite them. But that moment in which you gaze at a blank page – fingers poised over keyboard or unfamiliar-feeling pen already slipping in fist – that moment is the culmination of all the pressure we’ve ever been under to express, to present, to articulate: to make ourselves visible, vulnerable and potentially risible.

So what do we do? … We read one more article. Because if we know that bit more, we’ll be that much less vulnerable, right? Uh, no. I’ve blogged previously about why this approach doesn’t work. The doctoral learning journey is enough of an epic quest that you really don’t need to add extra anguish. Yet while there is some excellent academic research on this topic, notably by learning developers and information literacy specialists, emotion remains an unspoken factor in academia.

So in traditional Twitter ‘Follow-Friday’ style, here are some great blogs that can help with the emotional impact of writing, reflecting, and surviving the doctoral experience:

The Thesis Whisperer – “dedicated to helping research students everywhere”

Explorations of Style – “The ability to formulate and clarify our thoughts is central to the academic enterprise; this blog discusses strategies to improve the process of expressing our research in writing.”

Literature Review HQ – advice from one who’s been there: “I realised that I had spent none of my time during my PhD reviewing the literature! … I was in for a very steep learning curve…”

Kevin Morrell’s PhD tips – some fantastic myth-busting: “You need to finish a time-bound project, not win a Nobel prize.”

Lastly, check out the #phdchat hashtag on Twitter. You’ll find the bloggers above on there along with many others who are dealing with the impact of the doctoral journey by sharing tips and resources that work for them. I can vouch for this: a community is the most effective way to combat a crisis.

4 comments so far

  1. Melodee Beals (@mhbeals) on

    All wonderful sites. Although I only finished my PhD a few short years ago, and consider myself quite web-savvy, I was wholly unaware of the wonderful peer-support available beyond the postgraduate common room.

  2. Marialuisa Aliotta on

    I agree. These are excellent sites and I have added them to my list of useful links in my own blog on Academic Life. Thanks for sharing

  3. Kaite Welsh on

    This feels an awful lot like the process for writing fiction (probably because I write 19th historical fiction and I turned down a place to do a PhD on 19th C lit to do that instead, so that’s just my way of justifying it…) Thinking of it as an epic quest is helpful! I’m clambering out of the Slough of Despond at the moment with novel revisions, but it’s relieving to know that other people with their big crazy passion projects go through the same thing.

  4. Ben on

    These are great sites and I’m honoured that you would include mine among them. Thanks very much :)

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