Friday 1st May, 2020
It’s Friday morning and you just phoned me. You asked how my day was here in this COVID-19 lockdown and I just burbled on about writing and study. When I finished and asked you how your day was going, and you shared your news, you could not see that I was crying.
You got an A for your Master’s thesis ! I knew you ought to get one, but hearing how excited you were just after you received the news this morning started me weeping.
We have proof-read so many theses together over the last few years for other people. Can you remember how many of them received an A? I can only recall two. Far too many times I can remember thinking about what we were reading: “this is excellent writing but I wonder how the examiner is going to respond to it?” We shared the disappointment of the many B and B- grades, how that ended the postgraduate journey of some students. I think that kind of puts my tears in perspective, doesn’t it?
So now, you are able to start planning your Doctoral studies. You already know how different that is going to be. Your undergraduate years were spent writing about what everyone else thought about your topics. Then, during your Master’s, you started to express your own, original research findings. You drew together a few of the threads of ideas that others had missed. Now, when you enter into your doctoral research, the essence is to “..see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought” (Albert Szent-Gyorgyi). The hard part is that most of your work will need to be novel, original. That’s hard, is often tiring, but oh…it’s exhilarating.
Time is going to feel like it is passing differently too. There will be deadlines, yes, but they stretch out over years. You will ask yourself often “why am I doing this to myself ?“, especially after a particularly harsh response from a reviewer on some prestigious journal you are longing to get published in. I love the physicist Niels Bohr’s observation on this journey to becoming an “expert”:
I’ll be there to laugh with you during those times, there is a lot of coffee still to drink and no shortage of drafts to proof-read. It will be hard but I know you will thrive. Maybe you will be far away at some English university and I’ll be weeping because I am missing you after a phone call. Don’t worry about that part – if that’s where the journey takes you, I would not have it any other way.
Jane and I already think the title “Dr Michaela Selway” will suit you: you are ready for this. Go for it !!
Love you so, so much,