To Sleep, Perchance To Dream of a Completed Thesis.
by Bec Hawkings
Scene: a town-house in West Ryde. Picking and eating baby corn out of the pot of leftover stir-fry, my hip nestled uncomfortably against the dishwasher, I whinged to my best friend about the life of a PhD candidate.
“I’m exhausted!” I cried. “I’m exhausted, and broke, and I don’t ever feel like I’m getting enough done, and everything I write reads like utter shit, and I’m not even six months into the candidature yet!” Spear the baby corn, chew, chew, adjust hip. (Ouch. That’ll bruise in the morning.)
She glanced out at me from the depths of her pantry.
“Yeah, but you love it.”
Drats. The woman had got me again.
There exists a vague, unspoken masochism in postgraduate study. The money is awful, the hours abominable, and existential crises become a bi-weekly occurrence. And yet we flock to it in droves, clambering for a coveted spot in our chosen department’s echelon of postgraduates. We sneer at the undergrads, and we are astonished by the new batch of Honours students: “My god, were we like that a year ago? What the devil were we stressing about then?! These kids don’t know the meaning of the word stressed!” Conversations with other candidates bypass “how was your weekend?” in favour of “how was your last meeting with your supervisor?” (The inevitable answer, of course, is a despairing wail and a desperate cry of “TELL ME WHAT AM I DOING HERE WHY OH WHY WHAT IS THE MEANING OF IT ALL?”) We lug piles of research with us on holidays, feeling a constant guilt that we’re not shackled to our laptops for a few short days. We stare longingly at our friends, the clever ones who actually snagged a career out of their degree, or the cleverer ones who are flitting around Europe without a care in the world.
And then we sigh, and crack our aching, permanently hunched backs, and throw ourselves back into the teetering pile of overdue library books.
(My chiropractor is never going to be rid of me, nor I of her.)
Despite the tumbleweed in my bank account, despite the frustration of first drafts and archive research, despite the dangerous amounts of caffeine that constantly linger in my bloodstream, I’ve never been happier. Sitting at my laptop, or curled up in the HDR lounge of the university library (with swipe card access! And a kitchen! How fancy!), it never feels like work. It’s a good kind of frustration, a good kind of madness; even a good kind of existential crisis. It’s the reason I keep coming back to study, and the reason I haven’t yet fled the Brutalist 1970s architecture of my university in favour of a comfortable office and an actual pay-check. Happiness is not my default position. Being anything other than the human version of Eeyore is something I actively have to work at. To stumble upon something that makes me happy with (arguably) minimal effort on my part is too rare for me to throw away.
I’m exhausted, and broke, and I don’t ever feel like I’m getting enough done, and everything I write reads like utter shit, and I’m not even six months into the candidature yet. And I love it.