The most difficult thing about a being a PhD student — I think — isn’t figuring out a topic, doing the research or evening formulating an argument, even though these are all rather difficult and stressful tasks, as I can clearly attest to. The most difficult thing is to figure out one’s modus operandi, to find the balance between thesis and non-thesis. Unlike my American comrades, I have no classes. I teach if I want to, not because I have to. From day one I have complete freedom over my time, just so long at the end of three or four years I have a book-length thesis of satisfactory, if not excellent, academic quality to present to the university. I choose when to work, when to sleep, when to eat, everything. No one cares when I work; no one is keeping tabs on if and when I use the office or the library. My time is, quite literally, my own.
I know I am self-motivated — otherwise I wouldn’t be here — and supposedly I am self-disciplined as well. Yet even I find it difficult to find the balance between what I want to do and what I need to do, even when these things are very often one and the same. I am naturally a night owl (even if in recent years this rarely goes past midnight), and with my closest friends living at least five or six hours behind me, the time difference encourages this tendency. My best insights for my creative writing often happen after 8 o’clock in the evening. However, I take pleasure in the early hours of the morning before the rest of the world is awake and I know I perform my best academically while the sun is ascending. But, as I have posted before, I sometimes have trouble sleeping and so taking advantage of these morning hours is becoming more difficult.
In some ways, it would be ‘easier’ if one did have classes and other demands on one’s time. I’ve spent most of my life working around class schedules and finding times to get things done between classes. That is something I know how to do. It is the complete and utter freedom that requires the most discipline. And I think that is something most non-academics don’t realize about the life of being a PhD student. It is a privilege to have this freedom, certainly; but neither is it easy.
So, how does one take advantage of being a night owl (when I am most creative) as well as being an early bird (when my academic work is sharpest)? I have yet to find out.
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