I’m definitely in a slump right now.
It’s something every graduate student experiences, I think – those times when for some reason, your world tilts and you don’t feel like doing anything. There are always times that you don’t feel like doing work – but then there are those special times in which you don’t feel like doing anything – not work nor your hobbies. Or maybe you stick obsessively with one thing that you do over and over. Mine is usually reading books. I get into a particular genre (historical fiction is my favorite; or sometimes, medical nonfiction) and I read book after book after book. The time slips by.
When I first started sinking into these slumps I would become alarmed and stressed out. “Oh no,” I would think, “you can’t be in a slump, not now, not really ever. You’re a doctoral student and you have to work!”
But as I’ve learned through the years, graduate school (and life in general, really) is a series of peaks and valleys. Sometimes you fight with your husband and sometimes you have warm fuzzies. Sometimes you want red velvet cake every day and other days the very thought makes you sick to your stomach. And sometimes you can bang out 9 pages a day and other days you don’t even want to think about your damn dissertation, or anything.
So I’ve learned that in long-term projects, I have to give myself space and room to breathe – room to go through the slumps, as it were. It’s unrealistic for dissertators to think that they are actually going to work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, writing writing writing and analyzing and in the library or whatever. Or maybe there are some people like that, but the vast majority of us are not. I consider myself an excellent writer – and have heard such from all of my advisers – and I am one of those people who writes for fun. I spin stories. But even I can’t sit at my computer and write, every day all day. It’s just…eventually your brain gives out. So some days I write for 4 or 6 hours, taking few breaks. Some days I crank out 7 pages. And some days I get a paragraph.
But that’s okay. Dissertations are made up of paragraphs.
I’ve learned to embrace the slump – to just let it pass. Trying to fight it just prolongs it. Sometimes you have to give into it, and let it take you over for a few days. But you have to remain calm – don’t panic, don’t give into anxiety. Don’t ruminate oh my god, I am never going to finish anything or I am a failure at life because I don’t feel like doing work. If you love your work, it will pass. And for me, at least, the end of the slump always brings on a burst of energy and creativity. I feel somehow renewed, refreshed, and ready to work again. Today, I can feel the slump coming near its end, and I find myself looking forward to working on sections of my literature review and even maybe feeling like attempting this data analysis that I don’t yet know how to do.
I consider it training for an academic lifestyle. I always said I didn’t want to be an academic because of the guilt. It was one of the things I hated the most. Grad students know what I’m talking about – the guilt that follows you around when you don’t work, even if you’ve been working all day or all week. You feel guilty for taking the time to watch your favorite TV show or read a book or go to sleep. Regular people things. I knew I could be an academic, and potentially succeed in that career, once I got rid of the guilt. These days I don’t feel guilty when I do things for myself, because I’ve realized that I am so much happier and more productive when I do do those things.
And the slump taught me that I love my work, too. I find myself looking forward to writing – relishing the book on structural equation modeling I am currently reading, looking forward to uncovering the history of the construct I am exploring, even looking forward to rearranging the thoughts I dump on my paper to make a coherent tale, one that will convince my readers that my work is important to the field. I like the process. I keep waiting for that horrible misery to hit me – the one all the dissertators of yore have told me about – but it has yet to do that. There are some parts I don’t like, but all in all it’s been a pleasant experience. I write when I want and I don’t when I don’t – I do something else.