Yesterday I had a run away day. I was sick of my work and wanted to get away for a bit, so I drove out the Peak District and wrote in my research diary for a while. The following is a little bit of what I wrote, reflecting on the benefits that a brief escape from your PhD can have.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a riverside cafe somewhere near Hathersage. I’m annoyed at all the people who have a seat by the window where they can actually see the river. That’s why I’m here really, I just wanted to look at a nice view and have a cup of tea. I feel like these people don’t need the view as much I do, or appreciate it as much as I would right now. It’s the same kind of irrational anger that I get when I don’t get a window seat on a train! Anyway, I now have a very expensive cup of tea, no view and a cake that I probably shouldn’t be eating.
I’ve sort of run away for the day. I’d driven to Collegiate for the interview, and I thought about going for a quick walk around Endcliffe Park, or maybe driving to Millhouses Park, but I got in the car and knew I wanted to go to the Peak. So I got in the car and drove, and just kept going. I just wanted to see some open space and some green. I forget how sick I get of the city, the built up environment- that feeling of being trapped, no matter how much I love Sheffield. Every time I see the hills, I feel like something inside me unwinds. I didn’t want to go home because I knew that it would mean that I had to transcribe.
It has been a funny couple of weeks. I’ve started my first set of interviews with my participants, which has been fascinating and exhausting in equal measure. I’m amazed at what people say, what they will tell you. I feel really fortunate, honoured that these women will give their time to me and tell me their stories- but in a weird way it feels like a huge responsibility, too. I want to do them justice, to represent their stories well and in a way that they would be able to recognise themselves within my research.
I’m sitting at a table by the window now. It’s really lovely here. It’s a garden centre sort of place, so there are books about bird-watching on the tables, and a big bird feeder just outside the window so you can see all the tiny pretty coloured birds eating and flying about, moving in that fascinating jerky way that they do. Then there’s the river flowing below and the fields and rolling hills behind. I feel a bit better already, sitting here and writing this.
I did an interview this morning, and I really didn’t want to. I felt really tired and ill this morning and it was a real effort to drag myself out of bed. The interview itself was interesting- I loved the story she told about when she got her PhD offer- but at nearly two hours it was pretty long, especially in comparison with the others I’ve done. I found my mind wandering, and was inwardly groaning at the amount of transcribing that I knew an interview of this length would entail. It’s not like the interview was a disaster- it’s not even like it even went wrong particularly- but if anything I needed to be more on the ball than usual in order to direct the interview better.
I feel as though the point of my PhD is being lost somewhere- in the dread of transcribing, the feeling that I’m always behind; the constant guilt. Before I started my data collection I set myself what now seems like a ridiculous target- to do one interview per day, with one day off per week, where I’d do an interview in the morning and transcribe it that afternoon. With transcribing taking usually 3-4 times the length of time that the interview lasts, clearly this was a bit of an unreasonable expectation. Not long after I started the PhD, a friend who is now a senior lecturer said that I shouldn’t be afraid to just take the time to sit and think about things. I feel like because of the way that I’ve needed to start data collection so early, I’ve had very little time to contemplate what I’m doing, and how and why I’m doing it.
Somehow I feel like sitting here and doing this is the best thing I’ve done in a little while. Surely there’s no point in doing a PhD and being given all this time and space, unless you sometimes have days like these? I loved driving with no particular destination in mind; that feeling of wandering and being free to do so. I genuinely love what I do and I don’t want to feel constrained by it. It’s just the thought of going home to three hours of interview material- I can’t bear it. But I don’t have the money it would take to pay people to transcribe the interviews for me. What will I do? Probably bite the bullet and just do it, eventually. But today is my run away day and I don’t want to think about it any more.
I’ve done an interview today. That’s enough. No more guilt. As I’m sitting here writing, I’ve realised that I actually have my hiking boots- and possibly a waterproof– in my car, left over from the last time I came out to the Peak. I think it’s time I went for a wander in the hills.
When I got home I felt like a different person- calmer, more relaxed, and more able to get back to work the next day.
To any of you who want to run away from your PhD for the day- I can highly recommend it!