My PhD Journey: Back in the saddle

This is a big year for me. I have returned to my PhD and I’m carving out considerable time to get this thing done. The back story… In the second half of 2018 some significant family issues came out of the blue. While everyone was well, my siblings and I were faced with a matter we just didn’t see coming. It is amazing how these things become so all-encompassing, as you try and navigate your way through the quagmire.

That was coupled with the end of the second year of my PhD at the University of Melbourne. It’s probably a similar story, but I was lost. Self-doubt, my capacity to get this thing done and a personal sense of not understanding the ‘why’ was crippling me

Those who I spoke to around that time probably remember the shopping list of excuses that I gave to justify the way I was feeling. Work-wise, at the end of 2017 I decided to go-independent, complete the PhD and present myself to the world. Anyone who has done this can tell you it’s hard, how do you go from the security of a salary, to making your way in the world (I’m still learning).

Nevertheless, this perfect storm was brewing in my life. And with some wise council, I decided to take a year out. That was the best decision I made. I could concentrate on growing myself as a ‘consultant’. At the beginning of the 12 months, however, I had convinced myself I couldn’t go back to the PhD.

Do I throw away my student card?

Should I ditch all the journal articles and clean up my computer?

Should I just tell the university, ‘it’s over’?

Thankfully, I didn’t do any of those things, wisdom prevailed. 

As I worked with clients over the year, setting up new schools, helping teachers integrate space into thinking, working with architects on school projects, I began to see ‘the need’. About seven months into the year there was another intersection of events that changed my thinking – a journal article, the challenges facing a couple of principals I was working with and a seeming ‘bolt out of the blue’. Within a 24 hour period, I had decided to return to my study. Just like that.

So much of this is about knowing where you fit in the scheme of things, what’s your unique contribution to the world. I’m finding mine. To simplify, I love the ‘how’. Big vision is one thing (the why), innovative learning spaces (the what) are a result, but how do we create a path for people to take a journey. It  might challenge their thinking, it might shift their long-held practices, but ultimately the goal is to achieve better outcomes, experiences and opportunities for kids. 

It was through this lens that I took a fresh look at my PhD. I didn’t have much of a summer break, as I was knee-deep in looking afresh at my research data. Bringing my new mindset to solve important problems.

I’m not saying that doubts and insecurities don’t raise their ugly heads, but I am developing strategies to deal with things. I am working through a book “Your PhD Coach: How to get the experience you want” by Gill and Medd (2013). Early on they talk about our ‘gremlins’ 

“That voice in our heads, that internal narrator, the inner critic, which interrupts what we are doing. . . always throwing rocks before you.

So, name them, shame them and send them away.

There will always be challenges, obstacles and self-doubt, but finding my ‘why’ and having strategies to deal with self-doubt is a good place to start. 

Just keeping it real.


4 thoughts on “My PhD Journey: Back in the saddle

  1. Thank you Anne- I appreciate the “real” you. I also keep hearing voices inside my head -lyrics from Lauren Daigle’s song. As a newly appointed Middle Years Lead I also kept thinking I’m too old. Not enough experience in collaborative teams or collaborative teaching delivery… but that was last year. The old lie that everyone else is better has been crushed because of the collective experience and enthusiasm of this team. Determined listening, planning, brainstorming, and more planning, with commitment at the start of this year and into week 2 it seems like the avalanche of doubt and unease has dissipated. This post of yours has again reassured me that I am/we are not alone in this massive professional journey. Many blessings to you.


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