Keeping going

How do I stay motivated?

“I remember meeting a PhD student who had been working on her thesis for years. ‘Eighty thousand words is a lot of words,’ she said. The next day I was talking with a journalist who had been commissioned to do a local-history brochure. ‘It’s only 12,000 words,’ he told me. ‘I can knock that out in a weekend if I have to.’ The difference was one of attitude.”

“Writing is a hard way not to make a living.”

“At the end of the second year of doing my PhD, I took the summer off to write a cricket book that I had always wanted to write. It was helpful, not because anything was going wrong with the PhD, but because it gave me a break. I was doing my PhD full-time and it was quite alarming to have a huge block of undiluted time on one thing, whereas normally I was so used to weaving my writing around work. My situation was different to some people’s in that I was 28 when I began my PhD and I had already written three books. But even so doing the thesis was difficult. It was fantastically liberating having all this time but life being what it is you sometimes crave for distractions. And I think it was helpful to have a break for a few months, write a cricket book, and come back fresh.”

“Obviously there are people who are enthusiastic about your work. I think it’s really important to keep talking about your work to people in the area, but not really talking to people outside the area because you need the in-depth intellectual perspectives to keep your enthusiasm up.”

“I think the lowest part was the second year, and I was considering ditching it and getting an MPhil. The ‘What am I going to do with a PhD?’ question really came up in my mind. And ‘Is it actually going to help me with what I want to do with my career?’ But I certainly didn’t tell my supervisor this, so it didn’t go as far as being a serious contention. I think people say that the second year is a difficult one: You’re still putting together your research design; You don’t really feel like you can get to a point where you’ve found something that’s worth reporting; You wonder if you’re actually going to discover this unique contribution to knowledge that is required of you.”

“I was doing other research projects, but I don’t think I could have done it any other way. I think that doing other research projects widened my perspective. It gave me something else to do. I could say to myself, ‘I’m being paid to do this research, I’m going to spend three months on this and leave my PhD for that time.’ I think it’s very difficult if you don’t have anything else to do. I have often heard from other students – students who’ve had a baby for instance – that they have their PhD in perspective; it’s not the most daunting thing in the world. But of course it’s very difficult to hold down a job and do a PhD. And the only kind of job you can hold down when doing a PhD is one like mine where it’s within the same area, where the work and working hours are compatible. I could go back to my PhD when I wanted to.”