I’m doing narrative research, which involves understanding knowledge as how humans make sense of the world through narrative, through stories. I am analyzing, well ok, I am still transcribing, but I will be analyzing my data, looking at what and how my participants, or narrators, tell their experiences, and also how metanarratives and counternarratives shape their stories, and how the narrators draw upon these to relate both their experiences and themselves.
In thinking about narratives, I have realized that there are certain stories I tell, over and over again, about the process of doing a PhD. First of all, I tell the story of how I decided to return to school and enrol in the PhD because I wanted to spend my days in cafés, because I was tired of working 9 to 5, because I wanted time to volunteer at my children’s school. In telling this story I construct the PhD experience as liberating, and myself as living very much in the present. I also minimize the very intense intellectual commitment and hard work involved. The story has evolved, and now I say that I want to get a job as a professor eventually, because it will allow me to travel. While the story is “true” to some extent, it also masks my very real desire to teach and do research, to collaborate and learn, and I am pretty sure that behind both those narratives there is an attempt to conceal my own ambition and geekiness.
The other story I tell is that I work so much, and have so many responsibilities, that I have no time to procrastinate and am so very motivated when I finally have a day to work on my thesis. That has been the case most of the time, but there are days, like today, when I have tasks I find boring to do, like listen to recordings and verify that my transcriptions are accurate, and I do all the laundry in the house and clean the refrigerator instead of doing the work I need to do… This doesn’t make the motivated self narrative less true, it just exposes my own incoherence and contradictions. Now back to work! or should I go for a run?
Last month my research group held a seminar for students on motivation, procrastination, and finding a balance between your studies and everything else in your life (work, family, social life, exercise…). In general I’m pretty motivated. My program is structured well, and even though the recruitment process has been long, and has not gone 100% according to plan, I enjoyed my first round of interviews and am slowly ploughing through the transcriptions. I have a list of things to do next, and have faith that I will eventually get to them. My problem is not really procrastination either, because I don’t have time to procrastinate. Teaching a course, working as a research coordinator, acting as stage director to my children’s lives (get up, get dressed, brush teeth, eat, wash hands, put on coat…do homework, take bath, put on pyjamas, eat…), not to mention personal chef and maid, well there is not that much time to procrastinate. At the seminar one of the other participants, who recently completed her phD, explained how it was important to her to make time for exercise, to maintain her physical and mental health. I think she made an important point, and I enjoy training for running races, so I decided to get back into it. I won’t get into the guilt of taking time out of everything else to focus on my training, but I did realize that I approach the phD the same way I approach the race training. First of all, I make sure to follow a schedule, I get really excited about it, I buy stuff (mostly books, notebooks, pens, highlighters, a new laptop when I began the phD – new running shoes, tights, a little gadget so that I can run with my smartphone), and I follow blogs or specific Twitter feeds for continued motivation. However, all the other times I have run seriously I have been on maternity leave, sick leave, between jobs – I never been able to invest in 2 major goal-oriented tasks at once. So I’m hoping that the running doesn’t detract from the phD, and that the phD doesn’t get in the way of the running. I am convinced that taking a break to run is good for my brain, that I can also think and figure things out about the phD while running, and that there is somethings about tackling a long-term commitment, like a 10k race (I can’t do longer, my physiotherapist said it was bad for my knees) that helps me believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to. I’m just worried I’ll get so excited about the running I’ll lose interest in the phD. I wonder if I can find a group of phD students to run with – we could discuss our research and fitness goals!
What about you readers? Are you able to focus on 2 major life goals at once? Any tips?