There are several emotions that underpin the PhD journey.
You’ve got stress, for sure, and frustration. Then there’s the confusion, and also the joy.
But the one that stood out to me as I reflect back on my PhD is one of loneliness.
This isn’t to say I wasn’t connected to others. I was. Rather, there was a lingering sense of disconnectedness from those people.
Perhaps you can relate.
The PhD is by its very nature a solitary endeavour. Even surrounded by peers and colleagues, you’re working on a project that’s unique to you, and you’re asking questions that no one has asked before.
You can share in that experience with those around you, but no one really understands what you’re going through.
Least of all friends and family. The oddities associated with a PhD mean that, unless you’ve done one, or are in the process of doing one, the emotional struggle associated with the PhD journey doesn’t really make sense. When you do try to explain your research or the challenges therein, friends and families don’t really get it.
And then on a more practical level, you have to spend endless hours alone, sometimes late into the night, writing, reading, conducting experiments, and so on. All alone.
This loneliness can be painful. Crippling, even. All that time spent working alone can breed feelings of worthlessness or foster the sense that there is something wrong with you.
But there isn’t.
A PhD is won by quiet, diligent effort. Squirreling away quietly in the corner.
But it’s also driven by an understanding that you aren’t alone – everyone doing a PhD is part of a shared experience. There exists a great deal of support, both within and outside your university, and you’re part of a global cohort of bright, gifted students.
Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely, but often we forget that.
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