This is an entirely accidental PhD. That sounds kind of ridiculous but is a pretty fair description of how I arrived here. There are probably other people who have a vision of working towards a PhD, but I can’t point to some long stated ambition to qualify as what I’d call a real doctor. A while back I had an idea, and then I got encouraged to start pursuing them and then one day I thought “I’m working on this quite a bit, I wonder if I should make it all a bit more formal?” So now it’s 16 months later, and I’m a part-time PhD student while working at a couple of different spots utilising my training as an anaesthetist.
I would even have to shamefacedly admit I didn’t really appreciate what a PhD was prior to looking at enrolling. I honestly hadn’t thought much beyond it being something that really clever people did, dismissing it in a lazy fashion as something I wouldn’t do and therefore not bothering to understand what it meant. I know now though that it’s more about the knowledge, and hopefully wisdom, gained through the process of embarking on a big research project, and more particularly of working with a team of people who are not just clever, but impressively committed, persistent and open to ideas and experience. The sort of people who understand that after 18 months of working on a project, the fact that you’re still working on the set-up is actually a mark of progress. Yep, it’s all been about the build so far.
The great thing so far is that the PhD has actually made me reaffirm a passion for science. I’m actually enjoying it in a fashion reminiscent of the sort of high school science that involved exploration, experimentation and the occasional jet of flaming gas across the classroom (don’t think Mr Binet will track me down now). Science as a pursuit doesn’t always get a great rap. In the recent past, it has often seemed that science and research broadly has been a bit under fire. On matters across all sorts of fields, science is brought into question by commentators or media on issues as varied as vaccination (here’s one recent example) and climate science (where at least some have been made to check some facts). If it’s not commentary, there’s also sudden threats to research funding (otherwise known as the stuff that sustains the work of researchers and whole university programs) as occurred last year (happily unfrozen but still). It wasn’t that long ago that I felt a little sorry for science while everyone beat up on it (but I’m kind of a weed, so I hadn’t particularly stood up for it).
Now though, I’m in the PhD honeymoon phase. It’s the bit before the humdrum bit, or the long hard slog bit, or the periods of swinging depression bit, or the total sleep deprivation bit, or the submission and recovery bit. I’m still at the point where I’ve been reminded that science at its best seeks to follow a good idea because a good idea can make a difference. That rather than being a dry and fusty pursuit of irrelevancies, it is a dynamic and vital engagement with the world we see and a future we can imagine. That it is surprising and varied not staid and predictable. That science is not the rigid, unyielding and arrogant pursuit it is sometimes portrayed as, but rather that it operates on the underlying assumption that understanding is not something defined by a fixed point in time, but rather a constant refinement incorporating new knowledge that may disprove the old paradigm. And that it is peopled by individuals who will encourage some guy with no research credibility to speak of to pursue that idea that involves sending researchers out in helicopters in the hope we’ll learn new things about brain injury.
So, this blog will (probably) reveal some of what this PhD journey is like. So there will be some pretty specific stuff, either for the project or related to PhDs. But if the journey of the PhD is partly about the way it makes you engage, it will also touch more broadly on the ways the new engagement it prompts colours my understanding of science, medicine, research and the way I, and others, go about these things. And at the end, I suspect I’ll be able to look back at the archive and see all of that chronicled. Or I might just end up sharing hilarious cat videos.