Every once in a while someone will ask me what it feels like to do a PhD. Most of the time this question is asked by a friend who desires to embark on one. Often the question is asked when I am in a good mood or at least when I am not in a bad one – it is not unusual for me to be having this conversation over a glass of wine – so I respond to the question in rose coloured tinted wined words that suggest that it is a privilege and luxury to have the time and opportunity to develop oneself and one’s ideas. While not untrue, I am sure I will feel like that again, once I pass my exam, but at this very moment I have this desire to prepare my soon to be colleagues for year three.
Why year three you ask?
The first year is beautiful. You are a PhD student, you are new in the programme and like everyone who is new in any institutional structure, you are loved, listened to and nurtured. You have all these visions, dreams, ideas and you are raring to go. Sometime after a year and a half, year two looms ahead and you have finished your mini-viva. You are officially a PhD candidate and now, finally, you can begin and finish your doctorate. You can taste the glory, you can feel the warmth of the title… however, you still have to cross year three.
Year three tests your mettle.
Procrastination becomes an art form, sometimes it manifests as a blog where one discusses the journey of the PhD.
The best anecdote that describes year three is about this after-party that I went to more than a decade ago. It was customary for me, when I was younger to spend saturday evenings at a party, and an after-party. I rarely came home before dawn, and yes despite my proclivities I am doing a PhD. After one such party, a group of us, some known, some unknown, piled into my car, a tiny sedan, and we began our journey towards this secret after-party with just a location pinned on the rudimentary maps of those days, towards a farm house on the outskirts of the city.
We began our journey flushed with anticipation – it is difficult for me now to comprehend what we were anticipating; however, in no time we drove out of urbanised Bangalore. If anyone knows India, it does not take too many kilometers to reach this point and one can usually recognise it in the rattling in the bones because the road ceases to exist and the car is now enroute a gravel-mud track, that seems to be getting less wide. A few more minutes and the darkness becomes palpable, the headlights managed to pierce through it marginally, enough for us to see a thin strip of the track surrounded by dense foliage. We did not know if the track will thin out further, but we were well aware that it was impossible for us to reverse back the way we came in. Fear replaced anticipation. No one is speaking anymore, and no one wanted to go to that promised mythical party anymore. Slowly, painstakingly, we inch forward, every small distance covered is a milestone… We eventually did emerge from that isolation back into some semblance of civilisation, spending a good part of the next few hours trying to get back home.
If memory serves me right, this was possibly the last Sunday morning dawn I stayed up into. Now-a-days, it is more likely that I wake up at day-break – not slowly as I part the curtains of the dream world and amble into a state of wakefulness – paralysed with anxiety at the little that I have achieved the day or week or month or year before.