Into uncharted waters

It seems like business as usual. I was trained to do this. I’ve done this a lot of times. Yet, why does it feel like I’m entering uncharted waters?

The preparatory Japanese language classes have ended and here I am, at my research desk, where I’ll spend the next three years of my life. Staring at a wall, occasionally glancing left to a pile of scattered papers and open books, and then back to typing a few words… only to delete them later. Rinse, lather, and repeat for several hours. A short break. Then again.

Basically, business as usual.

There is one nice thing about writing a research proposal, despite what people say. It is a blissful activity, because it is only then I can imagine my entire project going off without a single hitch. A time when I do not have to endure real hardship yet, where my imagination can flow freely without internal or external criticisms to stumble my idyllic fantasy of a completed research project.

Once the proposal is written, comes hard sobering reality: it needs to be done at some point. That’s where I am right now. The “doing part” is not always fun.

I’m missing a citation. Where did I put it again?

Is this really what this author meant when they’re talking about this aspect of this theory? I’m worried I might be misrepresenting them.

What reference style does this journal ask for again? Great, now I have to reformat everything.

Good Lord, I need to read this book… but my library doesn’t have it.

My back hurts.

How many more speeches do I need to read?

I finished coding 200 articles… only to realise I should have been looking for an entirely different code. Now I have to do it all over again.

I hate it when government institutions have to hide their publications behind five clicks.

I’ve written a good 500 words… Oh no, they all sound bad now.

Oh good, it’s finally five. I can go home now.

Sometimes, I think to myself, this does not seem at all different than my previous work as a faculty member. In fact, now I have all the time in the world to solely focus on my research, without the excessive burden of administration and teaching. The difference is that I’ve left calm waters and sailed towards the rough open seas, into uncharted waters. I guess that is, at it’s core, the quintessential PhD experience: to venture into the unknown and chart your own path, hoping that someday, someone else will find it, and continue along it.

On the first day of my PhD, the dean (or was it the vice-dean?) of the School drew this diagram, which I reproduce here with my own twist.

I’m not alone; I owe gratitude to those who came before me, who have charted the course to the boundary. But, their maps only go so far and now, it’s my job to carry on exploring where they have yet to venture.

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