A few weeks ago I received an email from a friend that said something along the lines of “Good luck with your research”. It was not only addressed to me, that’s to start with, and knowing that this person is not a native speaker of English (just like me), I assume that she meant to be nice and follow conventions by saying something that made more sense in her native language. This was the first time I had read someone saying “Good luck with your research”. I have been wished happy writing and happy researching before. And following my own native language conventions, I often say “enjoy” and “don’t get too tired” – the Spanish know how to deal with that, I suppose.
The thing is it somehow caught me by surprise and caused instant outrage in me. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks when it comes to work – I meant to blog this three weeks ago, but it never happened. The full time job is currently taking over in every respect and I barely have time or patience to do any research. It’s proving hard and it requires a lot of motivation and mental strength on my behalf, because half of the times I am meant to be researching (like right now, I suppose) I find I cannot be half arsed with it. So, with the feelings about the PhD running very close to the surface, this sort of statement made me snap. It made me snap, however, in silence and to myself whilst I was reading my emails in the work office.
Good luck? How is that even a convention? Our basketball coach has a pet peeve with that, and we’re not really allowed to say “unlucky” when someone misses a shot in a game. Come to think of it, we never said “unlucky” in Spain. I think we said “pity”, if anything, and cheered on. Because, realistically, how much of it is unlucky? How much of it goes down to luck? If you took a crap shot, let’s admit it, it’s not unlucky you missed. You did not shoot the ball well, hence it didn’t go into the basket. Unlucky it would be that, when the ball has the perfect parabolic angle to enter the basket, the lights go off and no one sees what happens, and whether you scored or not. Unlucky would be if the basket fell off the moment the ball was going to enter it. But that is *really* unlucky as the rules do allow for the basket to count provided the ball has gone through the ring even if it hasn’t gone through the full of the net.
I suppose there is a degree of uncertainty that we cannot control, but 95% of anything we do (research-wise) does not depend on luck. So I don’t need luck, and I don’t want luck. I need other things more than luck at the moment.
I need TIME. Quintessential element, and something I have never had. Although, philosophically, I have more time even if I don’t have time. Being a part time student means my completion date has been pushed to 30 months from now (I am not joking), so I have more time. But every day, I have less time than I used to, and if I can put one hour into my research per day, that’s a triumph. So I have more time but I have less time. The same way that if you buy some gruyere, or other type of cheese with holes. You buy a piece, and then another. Now, the more pieces of cheese you buy, the more cheese you have. But the more cheese you have, the more holes there are. So the less cheese you have. You have more cheese but also less cheese.
I don’t want a lot of time, I have to say. I think if I could put two hours of peaceful thesis-working a day like I used to I would be satisfied. But these days it is really hard to get any close to that. Causing major stress.
I need MONEY. Again, very quintessential. The thing is, no one has money. Some people might have time, but in academia no one has any money. I have recently completed a project for which I was awarded a relatively prestigious prize in my field of studies. That money will hopefully make it into my account once the holidays in Spain are over (I know). And I do have a full time job now. But buying time is sort of pricy, and there’s never enough money. So complaining about it is okay.
I need IDEAS. I have some ideas, but because I don’t have enough time, I am constantly worried that they will not mature enough by the time I want to write about them. I thought I was a genius with my strategy for my next chapter, and somehow my ideas didn’t quite make it into the paper. I need solid ideas that can stand strong and jump through all the difficulties of an interdisciplinary PhD. I need better ideas, or more time to develop them.
I need MOTIVATION. I think a lot of my issues come down to this. It’s a double edge sword. I reckon motivation is way easier and way more difficult to obtain than money and time. We all know of the constrictions of time and money. You either have it or you don’t, simple as. With motivation, it is a different story. Finding the motivation relies on a series of factors: guilt, research-love, wish to finish, research-fund-boosted happiness, etc. It can be so easy to find a way to motivate yourself. It can be so easy to talk yourself into putting a little extra hour of research. However, it is as easy as it is difficult to keep it going. It is so easy to talk yourself OUT of doing the research. I have always found the motivation switch at some point down the line in the last 18 months, but now I am struggling. I know that when the time comes, the switch will automatically flick itself on. But I’d rather not leave that to chance: I want to find it, wherever it is, and know where I should do when motivation is required. For now, however, it is just not happening.
I need a SECRETARY. I will not dwell too much on this point at the moment as I want to write a longer, more detailed post about my need for some administrative support outside my own persona. Yes, I know this makes little sense considering I work in admin at the moment. It’s more about having another person doing the work for me rather than being unable to perform all the admin tasks required to succeed in a PhD. It’s a question of having a different self doing the brain consuming, useful but hideously boring tasks that lie at the bottom of PhD admin. I will explain better in a while. But yes, I need someone to put some order and make certain admin decisions for me that I, from the researcher point of view, struggle to make consciously (but have no hesitation in doing when I have my administrator hat on).
I think I am going to stop now as I sound as if I am ranting, but I felt there was an important point to make. Nothing these days comes down to plain luck. People create their own luck by doing the right things at the right time, but that’s not a lottery. So don’t wish me luck with my research. Wish me a rollercoaster of time and money continuum and infinite tones of patience and motivation. Oh, and wish that someone will become, even if accidentally, my secretary.