The experience of being in the last leg of a PhD is quite a unique one, and from what I can see of friends around me in similar stages it is different for everyone. Sure, all of us find ourselves engaging in at least one or two somewhat strange behaviours, but a PhD is such an individual experience that none of us is going through precisely the same thing.
|Frame of documentary short I'm making (in Spanish) about|
what research is and what a researcher does.
In my case, the pressure to write and submit papers is compounded with a commitment to the participatory action components of my research. So while I’m plugging away at Word documents I’m also having Skype chats with co-researchers in Bolivia, creating a short documentary about my work, and writing small grants to support additional dissemination work in Latin America after the thesis defense.
This stage of the process also brings the inevitable worries about post-PhD life, which well-meaning friends and family help to keep present by asking the classic question, “So what’s next?” For me this brings up standard anxieties about job hunting and post-docs, but also bigger existential concerns, such as: What do I want my life’s work to be? Where can I best achieve that – in Latin America or in the UK, or back in New York? What is most important right now – what will be most important in the future?
The question of geography is a big one. Can I truly be committed to the ideals of participatory research that I’ve discussed so much on this blog if I don’t live more permanently in the place where it’s happening? I’m not sure, but I know the idea of repeating the kind of ‘six months here, four months there’-lifestyle that I lived during most of my PhD doesn’t seem very sustainable or appealing. But if I don’t wish to continue spending so much time based in Latin America, can I continue to support efforts there? In a way, the role of an ‘involved ally’ appeals to me, but I worry about my naïveté in being engaged from a distance with efforts on the other side of the globe.
Perhaps there is no one right path, and simply by reflecting, sharing my concerns, and putting myself out there I’ll find my way. I know that I want not simply to ‘talk the talk’, but to ‘walk the walk’, and so this must be my guiding principle above all else. And so I fall back on one of my favourite poems (by Antonio Machado):
Caminante no hay Camino
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Wayfarer, there is no path
Wayfarer, the only way
Is your footprints and no other.
Wayfarer, there is no way.
Make your way by going farther.
By going farther, make your way
Till looking back at where you've wandered,
You look back on that path you may
Not set foot on from now onward.
Wayfarer, there is no way;
Only wake-trails on the waters.