Don’t worry. I’m not about to go all tinfoil hat syndrome* on you my lovely readers. Actually, that is worthy of comment. My readership grows each month and my Google analytics (which is about as tech savvy as I get) tells me people stay on the site long enough to be reading my blog as opposed to clicking off when they realised I’m not the pneumatic blonde Swedish porn star Kathryn** but actually the geeky, introspective West Country (common-law) housewife Kathryn. So thank you. I’m actually quite humbled as I (ever the obsessive compulsive) check my stats.

Daily.

Anyway...

The end is nigh. After using my annual leave to stay at home and write up my thesis (truly could my life get any cooler?) I have turned a corner. Whilst typing a note to myself to explore an avenue in Chapter 7 I realised I had hit upon the phrase that could conclude the thesis.

It’s a high like no other. When I wrote my undergraduate dissertation I had a moment of clarity when I pulled together the conclusion. A conclusion I hasten to add, that is puerile, naive and absurd and I’m stunned (given my snobbishly superior status as a PhD student) that it was graded first class (and yet my needy, desperate to please side still feels the need to point that my first piece of research was thus graded!).

As I was writing my MA thesis I had moments of similar joy from the realisation (half-cut) that I had a topic to approach my former department with to making headway in the subject, to finding my direction to creating a theory. Ever the somewhat manic depressive I would swing between bursts of crazed enthusiasm for what I was to term Confidence Theory to wondering why I ever thought I could put together 30,000 words of meaning that were worthy of a Masters Degree.

Without question I was wholly unprepared for doing a PhD. I think I actually started it thinking it would be similar to the Masters, only longer. I don’t actually know what I thought of course as the anguish I thrust upon myself when I started this thing back in 2006 has largely obliterated my memory as a self-preservationist thing.

I hit endless walls, I doubted myself continually and have cried bucket loads. But then, the boyfriend will take my hands in his, kiss away my tears and say, ‘well dur! If it was easy everyone would do one wouldn’t they?’

He has a point.

So while I continue to have my low points - today being a prime example where I failed to be even remotely coherent on messenger to an interviewee based in Dubai (although my interviewee was amazing and the write-up is great) – I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

All of my chapters are formed, the footnotes are ordered, the arguments laid out and now I’m just fleshing it out; writing up bits of background, expanding on certain points and pulling the last strands together. The end is nigh!

What will this mean to me? After all, I’m not pursuing an academic career. Well, truth be told it was never about that. Nor is it about prestige (I certainly don’t intend to use the title of Dr). Rather I think it stems from a desire for the extraordinary. When I was planning my undergraduate dissertation my father (and it was to be one of his last lucid conversations with me) remarked that the fascinating thing about a dissertation was that at a particular moment in time, within very specific parameters, you were the world expert on a subject. 

As with so many things he said, I now disagree. But I do think that it’s true to a certain extent of postgraduate research. Even now, four years down the line, my MA thesis is something I cherish. The ideas in it were exciting and world altering. Not because they are groundbreaking in themselves but because of how they changed me. I created a theory because I found none to my satisfaction. Years down the line it is irrelevant to me whether I discovered something important in my field, what matters is that I realised I could do whatever I wished.

This PhD was my ticket to starting a new life in Malaysia. That journey saw me rent an apartment in a new city, saw me make myself over into a girl that graced the society pages of Expat magazine and had her heart broken when her Kurdish best friend failed to gain asylum and was sent back to Iraq.***

None of it was as glossy as I imagined. I remember standing at a window in my apartment looking at the Petronas Twin Towers and wondering why they weren’t enough. Since returning to the UK I pine for KL; for mad nights at Gypsy Bar, for watching the sun rise from my balcony, for the fountains at sunset at KLCC and for the coffee shops and the roti and walking home at 3am without a jacket because it was so warm.

As a result of starting this PhD I changed my understanding of home. In KL I missed England and in England I miss Malaysia. I will never be satisfied and will always feel incomplete and adrift (unless I win the lottery and buy homes in both countries and endless first class tickets).

I suppose the PhD is my story and while there may never be conclusions for me, I can at least conclude the thesis.

Only then can I start to look at what will come next.

* I was saddened that there was no website about this as a syndrome (by which, nothing on the first results page for a Google entry).

** Figment of my imagination (obviously).

*** A happy ending here as a year down the line he got in touch via Facebook having joined the US army. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again but I’d like to think that there are more chapters to Kathryn and Hussein.

10/13/2010 05:38:01 pm

I presume you've already seen it but <a href="http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/">Matt's illustrated guide to a PhD</a> says a lot of what you're saying, in pictures.

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Kathryn
10/13/2010 07:07:44 pm

I have seen it!

Incidentally the post-PhD project will look at the utter pointlessness of everything but why rather than acting to depress us, this can bring us great joy!

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10/21/2010 07:48:15 am

I identify with so much of this! I mean, not so much the writing up - I haven't got that far yet. But looking back at my nominally-first-class undergrad research and just cringing.... totally! And I'm thrilled to hear you're so close to finishing :)

PS thank you for your adorable review of my blog. Tell me if I can ever return the favour!

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