Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adventures in academia: My first few months as a research student

I have been searching for the right words to describe my first few months of being a research student, dear Research Zebra reader. It certainly has been an ADVENTURE IN ACADEMIA, full of puzzles, twists and turns, and unexpected insightful joyous ‘eureka’ moments, usually following extended periods being buried in literature.

Recently I went to ‘Go Ape’, which is an outdoor pursuit where you get to monkey around (even the grown-ups!) doing a rope-orientated obstacle course. It is set high off the ground from the forest floor. Needless to say fear or heights or not, it is at first a little scary.

Doing this grown up obstacle course, or dallying around in any such adrenaline activity for that matter, is a great analogy for what’s it is like in those first few months of a research degree. At the beginning there is the pure joy and excitement of, firstly, being accepted onto the research degree (hurray!) and, secondly, those first few weeks of being a research student. Discovering your way around the literature continues to be an exciting aspect of doing research for me, though it is qualitatively different to the experience of those first few intense weeks where you sit in somewhat unknown territory contemplating life, death and linguistic jargon!

It is not only the unknown nature of the rope course that draws comparison to those early days, it is also the leap of faith that surrounded the task of doing a PhD. I feel being a researcher hinges a little on fearlessness, in that you have to the confidence that you CAN find ways to overcome the various challenges that present themselves to you. The bit of the ‘Go Ape’ experience that was more than a little similar to this was the zip-wire moments, which required I step off the high-up treetop platforms and depend upon the harness taking me safely to the distant wood-chipped landing area below.

I would argue the safety harness represents my supervisors, who support and guide me through the research degree, ensuring I do not go off track. (Naturally, a research student is far more autonomous than merely depending on their supervisors, though their role is most certainly invaluable through the process).

I can certainly say, dear Research Zebra reader, that my research degree has so far been an academic adventure filled with the thrills of embracing the unknown, both metaphorically and literally (for example, when discovering inspiring literature or wandering lost through mountains of past research!) I wish you the very best in your own adventures, and will ensure to send a postcard in the future when I get to my next landing point!  

Devina is exploring the everyday experiences of illness and intimate relationships in heterosexual women with irritable bowel syndrome. 

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