Starting my research

The beginnings of my journey in search of a great topic, my own passions and developing as a professional and as a person at the same time

My Existentialism and Thank you to PhD Supervisors and Mentors

The question I get asked often is ‘Why am I doing it’? My response is that this PhD is at first for myself.

I have taken the time from my life to do it. To ponder upon my own self-development, to emerge as someone new, to reflect and write, to grow personally as well as professionally whilst doing it. It’s an amazing process in itself, although, more often than the feelings of joy, I am struggling with the very beginning of my research. Should we strive for fulfilment now, whilst we are candidates for PhD, or should we be putting the pleasures off to another ‘different life’ post-PhD?

Today I read a chapter from excellent Nigel Warbuton (2011) on Existentialist philosophers. He discussed Albert Camus and his use of the Greek mythology to explain “absurdity of humans” (Warbuton, 2011, p. 200). The image of Sisyphus relentlessly pushing the ball up the steep hill stayed with me tonight. A never ending expedition, a punishment of Zeus.

This is how I feel when writing for my PhD. Puffing and huffing, juggling many plates at once. My research, my part time job, whilst trying to have some ‘life’. Managing 5 inboxes, ‘adding’ things to my to do list instead of crossing them out. One step forward, two steps back. Are we doing PhD because we thrive under pressure? 🙂 Maybe.

When reading the Warbuton’s very accessible ‘story’ on Existentialism (maybe I will beocme a little philosopher 😉 ), something stood out for me. The Sisyphus is smiling according to Albert Camus. How Sisyphus can be happy whilst pushing the ball up the hill, never reaching the top? He is happy, because deep down he believes that his efforts are worthwhile, explains Warbuton.

I am not suggesting that Phd is a never ending journey, rather, that it truly requires a strong will and a commitment to keep on keeping on. When I started my PhD, I had to make several financial cutbacks, new ‘uneasy’ commitments. My income dropped significantly. I moved house. I made sacrifices which seemed incomprehensible to my dearest. But I carried on. I wanted to create something, not just consume life, and become a mere commodity on the employment market. As Tony Hsieh (2010, p.64) would put it: “I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion”. I now realise I am only at the beginning of a huge research project.

The claims of Existentialists are that we are the masters of our own fate. We have choices and we make things happen or not. Indeed, this can be contestable in many areas of life. However, it works perfectly well for me as a motivational wheel on my PhD journey. I can choose to enjoy it, I can choose to do it, I can choose to make the experience worthwhile, or I can call the PhD process a slow death.

And in my low moments, if I think the latter, I look around me. Aside from my dearest, whom I am eternally grateful (thank you Richard), I see my current supervisory team and my mentor. I open my ears, and I listen to their feedback. I open my heart and I let them in. Opening myself emotionally requires a certain amount of vulnerability. For me these relationships become a living personal experience that require the presence of trust. Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl said the same thing about friendship in  Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today (2006, p.67).

Certainly, it is a risk to be vulnerable but the benefits are huge. In return I continue to be inspired. We laugh together, we fight this fight alongside each other, and we keep making sense of my own PhD journey together. I believe we will get there, together.

This blog post is to say THANK YOU to my supervisors Prof Sam Warren and Dr Will Thomas and my mentor Dr Sharon Saunders, as well as all others, who are doing a brilliant job out there and do not get an ‘explicit’ credit from academia for the added value for helping us to get across to the other side.

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In search of ‘flow’ – starting my PhD

In search for my research topic, I have decided to apply the principle of ‘flow‘.

This principle, defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1992), refers to a state of complete devotion to an activity that is demanding all of our attention and expertise, without being conscious of the environment around us (Lyubomirsky, 2007, p.186). This state of mind can be experienced in any of life domains, and highly performing companies are applying it in their business models (Perschel, 2010).

In other words, it means being completely immersed in what you are doing, to the point you become unaware of your surroundings. I am in the process of formulating my research, and I started timing myself. When was I experiencing this state of mind? When I was completely devoted to what I was doing? Which article, or book had inspired me so greately that I could not stop but reading beyond my academic responsibilities?

My time was passing at a greatest speed when I was reading positive psychology books. Yes, you might say, these types of books are very helpful when one is starting a PhD, however, I have found that I am trully passionate about the philosophy of ‘happiness’. I have enjoyed reading not only works of Dr Martin Seligman, Dr Sonia Lyubomirsky, or Shawn Achor (in time I will post here very mind catching TED talks from these great researchers..). With a great pleasure I have immersed myself into some great enterpreneurial books with a happiness mindset. One of these books was ‘Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose’ by Tony Hsieh. I was reading it during the day, on the train, during my breaks, on my way home…

After applying the principle of ‘flow’ to deciding the way forward with my research, it was a simple decision for me. I would like to extend my current knowledge beyond my management discipline to positive psychology, to follow high performing companies and to enjoy maximum engagement. I hope that my PhD journey will be full of excitement in pursuing what I love – continuous learning and development not only as a professional, but also as a private person.

I have created this blog to trace my process of ‘becoming’ through my own sense-making, as excellent writers Tony Watson and Pauline Harris (1999) would put it. I will share the books that will inspired me and the principles I will come across, helping me on my journey.

Happy reading!

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