Lost in the Delta Quadrant


“Writing a thesis can be a lonely business.” So begins the blurb of the (excellent) Writing Group for PhD Students, which is run by the Academic Writing Centre.

Ha! I wish! I think to myself. Yes, it’s lonely … for my PhD. I’m fine, but my PhD is sitting in the garret, lonely, neglected, in a dusty half-opened box, crying quiet tears of neglect. Yes, I hear it cry, so I try to snatch a few hours here, a few hours there, to go in and meet with it. It has no other friends. Unfortunately, the meetings are so infrequent that we begin by reintroducing ourselves.

“Hello, I’m Eavan, yes, that’s a girl’s name.’

“Hello, we’re a collection of nineteenth-century naval officers who had a flair for drawing. We voyaged to the Arctic; you wouldn’t believe the things we saw, the places we’ve been, the things …”

“Ah yes, I remember now.”

They think me impertinent.

“Hey! Women can go to university now you know!”

But I digress; my PhD is not a novel.

The decision to move from Cork to Galway in order to start a PhD and live near campus was a good one. I met new people. I attended workshops and conferences. I made friends. I got involved. I had some modules to complete. I was not lonely; I was having warm chats in the Moore Institute, a lot. I started teaching undergraduates. This is good too, not lonely at all. Then I started correcting their essays. Not lonely – I mean it’s like fifty people have written me letters. And of course I’m lucky to have a family, again, definitely not lonely.

But I’m busy; I’m torn, all the time. Whether I’m trying to cook a sensible family dinner or replying to an email from a student, my juggling feels inept. Other things shout louder than my PhD, which is merely a quiet, though constant, tiny nagging voice.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’m coming!” I yell upstairs.

I’m dropping balls all over the place.

“I’m COMING!” I shout up to the PhD in the garret.

The (tiny) naval officers are running around now, stamping their boots on the ceiling, getting snow everywhere. And finally, I am there.

“I’m here!” I announce triumphantly, ready to do my PhD.

They’re delighted, though the Admiral looks stern.

“Okay, just hang on one sec,” I tell him. “Just gonna write a quick blog post. By the way, did I ever tell you how much you guys remind me of Star Trek, you know, all the final frontier stuff, it’s like you’re lost in the Delta Quadrant, hey Captain Janeway is a woman too, what do you think of that?”

“That is NOT an academic argument; your sources are dubious!” yells the furious Admiral.

All the officers look sad, climbing back into the box, crying.

So is writing a PhD a lonely business? That depends. In my case, it’s the PhD who is lonely (and lost in the Delta Quadrant). The student is fine. Perhaps I need to find some time, some place, to experience a little bit of this ‘lonely’ with my PhD.

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