It feels good to reflect on the last 6 months. 6 months ago I’d started on my PhD journey after a whirlwind of a year, becoming familiar in my new job role at Forestry England whilst completing my Postgraduate Diploma in Ecosystem Services Evaluation. I landed in the PhD position with but a brief pause.
I have always wanted to create a PhD. Now, the word create, rather than do, came to me early on during a workshop about creativity in a PhD. We don’t just do a PhD, we actually create it, and recreate it, continuously during our time studying. It doesn’t ever feel static to me, a constant becoming. Becoming is useful to capture the constant evolution, making and unmaking of the PhD. It is much more about this becoming than I’d ever thought before taking my first steps.
Time has moved quickly, and slowly sometimes. I find January a particularly slow time, finding rhythm with the light, dark and in-between. The world seems to be moving rapidly to keep up with the current situation, but slowly as everyone is told to move inwards, stay local, stay at home.
When I started writing this, thought it’d be a ‘hints and tips’ for the start of a PhD, as I found these types of ideas blogs useful, comforting to hear from diverse voices about this unknown thing. To write freely is liberating, I find. Keeping a journal can be a struggle for me as I tend to do things when I feel it’s right. Maybe that’s a tip. Trust yourself to know what you need to do or do what you feel would be useful. This is really challenging, though. Especially if you just feel really unsure or anxious. I find it all a lot easier when I talk to someone about it, someone who understands the process, has some exciting ideas or is doing something I want to do. Another PhD student, a trusted academic friend, my supervisors, someone who knows stuff about commons. YouTube videos and webinars have helped.
Journaling in some form is definitely useful. I was also lucky to find this very early on in my PhD. Not only good for my mental health, but also for the process itself as you have to show what, how, when, why you made certain decisions about the PhD. I’ve used OneNote, which I’ve found increasingly more useful, and I’ve used a paper bullet journal. I find tracking something about what I’m doing, that I can look back on, helps me to feel a sense of achievement or productivity. Whatever that means. Whilst I know that thinking and being creative is very much doing, and very important, part of my conditioning through school, academia and a career brings up a need to produce something. Reasonably regularly. I’ve found journaling quells those anxieties somewhat. And catchups with my surpervisors are helpful.
It’s like riding the ocean with spells of calm, reading and writing, then waves of stuff to do or worries about what you’re doing. Is it right? Am I doing enough? I’m sure these will become more frequent as I move further through the PhD journey, but I hope to fill my rucksack with my tools to help me know what to do. Or at least know where to turn.
The immense privilege spending time absorbing myself in my interests, following my nose through the literature, falling down the rabbit holes, spreading out my feelers in this first part of the PhD fills me with gratitude. Speaking to people who are commoners, who know about the commons always peaks my interest and excitement for the research the most. Also, being in landscape is truly grounding.