For those of you who have been reading this for a while now, you’ll have read my thoughts at various stages over the second half of my PhD in Classics. From start to submission last November it took just on 4.5 years, about average for a thesis in the Humanities. It felt much longer than that I can assure you. Well, the good news is that yesterday I got the letter I was waiting for saying that it had passed. A PhD thesis is marked by two anonymous examiners and one of them had wanted revisions so this letter confirmed that the revisions had been accepted. The examination itself took about 9 months in all and for the last few weeks I had been checking the mail eagerly anticipating this letter.
When I opened it I got quite a rush of energy. Ophelia was out on a walk, so I ran down the road to find her and share the news with her first. After that it was really quite strange, I was feeling a mixture of excitement, disbelief and triumph. I was also hit by a feelings of physical exhaustion and tension. Intense is one word to describe it. It took quite a while for it to start to sink in.
Increasingly though, I’m starting to realise just what this means. For the last 9 months, I’ve known that it has been mostly over, but there has always been that cloud of uncertainty. I haven’t been aware of it all the time, but even at a subtle level I can now appreciate how this uncertainty has influenced my decision-making, or lack of, especially regarding career matters. Until now there was always that possibility that I might have more work to do, more work that could interfere with whatever else is happening. But, no. It’s done. It’s finished. Knowing this, once again I can look to the future free to commit all my resources.
I’ve written enough about the kinds of mental and physical strategies that I had to employ to get through this. For anyone contemplating doing this or taking on a major project of any kind I want to stress one thing – you must have the right support. First and foremost, I have been blessed to have the most amazing support from my wife, Ophelia. Having an MA in Classics herself, she was better equipped than most to bounce ideas around with at a high level. But more important than that was the fact that she believed in me on all those days, and there were an awful lot of them, when I struggled terribly to see a way forward, to believe that I could do it.
About half way into it, I sought the assistance of a number of professionals to help me learn how to deal with the psychological challenges of anxiety and depression that were crippling my life generally and making progress virtually impossible. It was incredibly difficult to do, but learning to ask for help was the best move I made. Indeed it was when I sought help that I really started to take responsibility for my experience, for my life – that I started to grow and that I really started to make serious progress in my work and much more besides.
So this is a note of celebration and triumph, but not just for me. This victory, in no small measure, also belongs to my beautiful and amazing wife and all my other supporters, those who pushed me, who listened to me with empathy, those who made me laugh and just made me feel good to be alive, and those who helped me see it through to the end.
I thank you.
You can read the full thesis at: http://unimelb.academia.edu/JamesStratford/Papers/631277/The_Voice_of_Achilles_Communication_Self_and_Spectacle_in_Homers_Iliad
By the way, if you read my last post about my recent cycling adventures you might be interested in this one from the blog of the Harvard Medical School on the health benefits of experiencing flow and finding happiness in our lives in the places we often forget to look.