A look back at the road travelled by Dina Awad at the University of Leicester.
Looking back at the PhD years, I can’t help but think: had I just known…
In the beginning, I gave up the fight for the supervisor I wanted quite easily. Big mistake. I guess it had to do with the state of mind in the Pre-PhD stage when the whole prospect is so daunting and you are grateful they accepted you. Why should you argue?
Once the paper work is done and you are officially ‘in’, the awe and amazement stage starts. Every paper is holy, every author is a genius and there is so much to read about your topic it becomes impossible to imagine how you will find time. I read articles, theses and books, cover to cover, trying to understand every little bit while constantly thinking I could never write anything half as good. Wrong.
The first supervisor was nice and friendly but was away most of the time. I needed more guidance and direction but most importantly, I needed someone to tell me my mistakes. I was assigned another supervisor after the first one left.
The second supervisor, although renowned for excellent research, was not an expert in my field, and said my work was at ‘teacher’ rather than ‘linguist’ level and filled pages with exclamation marks and red comments. However, I started reading different kinds of sources –more British than American/Canadian. That marked the end of the reading phase and signalled the onset of the Writing one. At that time, I shifted from sources that discuss my topic (there shouldn’t be too many; otherwise you won’t be doing a PhD) to looking for well-known, frequently cited authors who had two or three words to say about it. That was quite effective.
One of the biggest turning points is when I found my own voice. In the final stages, I reversed the process of information/citation to putting my view first before selecting sources that supported it. Success
Sudden surges of confidence that push you to write long, unsupported, unreferenced brave pieces of work should be indulged rather than restricted. There will be plenty of brain-dead days and nights when all you can do is check, rephrase, cut and paste. These two moods should complement, rather than contradict, each other.
The drive that kept me going was the need to finish. I was afraid not to. Plus, there was someone willing to listen to all the nonsense and pretend it was logical. My sister did.
Dina is an EAP tutor at the University of Leicester