PhD ponderings: Sherlock Holmes keeping Bees as Inspiration for a lost PhD Student

Whilst on holiday during a particularly horrendous storm last week; I read Laurie R King’s the Beekeeper’s Apprentice. It’s an interesting book, about a retired Sherlock Holmes who keeps bees and his replacement sidekick Marry Russell a gawky witty, irritatingly clever teenager.  The holiday was a break from everything.  My brain had pretty much burnt out and it was nice to spend a week away from technology and thinking in general.  But it was whilst reading this book, that I realised despite working really hard all year, I wasn’t really any further forward in my PhD. In want of a better term, I had gone around in circles a few times and gotten well and truely lost.  A particular passage in the book hit a nerve:

“I drove myself. I ate less, worked invariably into the early hours of morning, drank brandy now to help me sleep.  I laughed when a librarian at the Bodleian suggested only half joking, that I might move into the stacks… I became, in other words, more like Holmes than the man himself: brilliant driven to a point of obsession, careless of myself, mindless of others…. I, in the midst of the same human race, became a thinking machine.”

This is how I functioned during my undergraduate and Masters degrees. I’m not saying it’s a good way of working, but I thrived on it.  Surrounded by papers, books, scribbling, working till I fell asleep and then starting all over again.  However the problem is I haven’t been doing that with my PhD. I’ve been treating it like a job, and trying to get a work life balance. But all I have succeeded in is getting lost.   It’s hard going from a job, even an academic research job, into a PhD. The rules change. It’s a different mindset. I thought I was adapting to the change from job to student quite well, but in reality I was faffing; still working on research projects which weren’t my PhD, saying yes to new exciting projects, even though I knew I shouldn’t of, and becoming addicted to exceedingly bad television programmes.

I realise now that the rules really have changed and if I don’t change too, I will wander off completely.  I have drive and I work hard, but it’s been pointed all over the place, rather than focusing  in on one, lets face it rather important, place.   I need to become a PhD thinking machine.

In attempt to keep on the straight and narrow I’m going to blog regularly about my research, trying to take it step by step, in an orderly fashion rather than leap frogging all over the shop. I hope you don’t mind.

4 thoughts on “PhD ponderings: Sherlock Holmes keeping Bees as Inspiration for a lost PhD Student

  1. This is precisely the way I am feeling right now. I am ten months in and have been saying yes to interesting (though relevant) projects along the way. But in doing so, I have gone broad instead of focussed. That has its uses, but there is also a cost and a downside.

    I’m having the same “I need to live and breathe this” moment that you are. Crossing fingers that it works.

  2. It’s good to know I’m not alone! I know everyone who goes through a PhD gets lost at times, its part of the process. But its really confusing and shakes you confidence everytime it happens. Fingers firmly crossed we both come out in one piece!

  3. Great post. It really took me back to my uni courses where I was exactly the thinking machine you describe – and I loved it!! Since then though I feel I’ve lost that focus and ‘work’ is so diverse that I’m dragged here, there and everywhere without the deep thinking that I once was treated to. Some may say that uni is a protected environment and made to create this type of being, but can’t work also be made more like this?

  4. Great post Claire!
    I had a supervision meeting this week…and we had this exact conversion. Whilst it would be nice to work with lots of museums, and run lots of exciting projects I’ve only recently had the realisation that this alone won’t get me my PhD.

    I have been tasked with sitting down and writing up a few chapters before I start anything else….which will be quite hard I imagine. I guess I have that magpie mentality > o shiny new project!! lets hope I can find the reflective, reading, writing academic in me…so I can start ticking some of those PhD boxes!

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