The PHD Elephant in the Room

In a great blog post today called How not to be an Academic Asshole during COVID the amazing Inger Mewburn of @thesiswhisperer fame (btw who I am very proud to be a patreon supporter of ) talks about the prevelance of ‘Toxic Positivity ; not showing weakness and pretending everything is ok when its really not’ in the academic world , and that this can stop people from admitting that they are struggling with things.

Inger is completely open and honest about her own struggles in many of her posts but this one really struck a chord with me …well worth a read.

I remember at one of our residential courses, the lovely Brett Bligh gave us a presentation where he asked each one of us to think about why we were doing a PHD… I didn’t really have an answer then and a couple of years down the line I’m not really sure I have an answer of much substance now !

When I started my PhD in 2017 after two Masters, a degree and a couple of other bits and bobs, I was convinced I probably would’t get through the first year and that as it was a modular based course, it would at least give me some PhD level modules to ‘bank’ and probably run away with. That didn’t happen and by some miracle I am still hanging on by my fingernails.

I struggle constantly with nagging worries about whether I should be doing this flipping thing in the first place … whether I am smart enough, whether what I am doing is ‘worthwhile’ , whether I can continue to justify the time, cost and pressure that this puts not only on myself, but also on the ones I love … sometimes I just don’t know anymore.

Now I’m not saying I think I want to quit, ..but I am certainly saying that I am finding it soooo hard. I am often scared of admitting this but having read Inger’s post I am hoping admitting that I am struggling with things is half of the battle.

I’m really not sure that I have what it takes to get to the end of this thing but I am at the moment still on this journey. I had some time out last year only to return and then find we were about to go head first into a global pandemic. However despite some pretty regular wobbles when the usual imposter syndrome creeps up, I am still chugging along.

Inger talks about a recent survey from the University of Sydney that found that nearly half of PhD students are contemplating leaving their studies in the next six months … NEARLY HALF ! As you can see from her tweet there were a lot of people that read it and it clearly resonated with loads of people .. although this is a worrying statistic it its strangely comforting for me in that I feel slightly less alone now …

The elephant is always in the room

Inger reminds us that we are all vulnerable in terms of suffering from poor mental health and that while we seem to be comfortable with talking about Student mental health , we ‘rarely turn the spotlight on academics who teach and mentor them ‘.

This provides more justification for what I am hoping to look at in my PhD in terms of emotional support for educators during and beyond COVID19 and how open practice and personal learning networks can provide a vehicle for this.

Inger has provided some great links at the bottom of her blog post that are really useful .. she also always comes up with some catchy titles such as ‘ Should you quit (go part time or pause) your PhD during Covid‘ and ‘The valley of deep Covid Shit‘ and my personal favourite ‘Academic Assholes and the Circle of Niceness

If you are doing a PhD and haven’t already found Inger ( are you living under a rock ?) you can follow her on twitter @thesiswhisperer and her blog at

PHD Help Videos – Cecile Badenhorst

I love these videos. My favourite is the one about the PPSQ . The link to a playlist with all of them should be below. Cecile has a really lovely calming voice too !

All the Ologies – Nurse Killam Videos

I’ve watched a couple of these videos and they are really good. I really liked the Ontology, Epistemology, Methodology and Methods one but here is a link to a playlist which should have all the videos on it. Well worth a little look.


PHD Productivity

This is a new to me channel that I came across the other day. So far am finding it really very good.

Here is the link to the full playlist


Today has been a bit of a challenging day in one way or another … I had back to back meetings in work and a headache so that just made it so hard to concentrate … so when I started on this evenings PhD work I found myself flitting around a bit so it has been a bit hit and miss.

Somehow in the middle of it all I decided it would be a good idea to revisit my CMALT blog ( another thing I am trying to get done ) and ended up faffing around with that for a couple of hours. ( Queen of procrastination) … What I should have been doing was trying to work on my proposal.



In fairness I did eventually try and work on my proposal but I didn’t get very far.

My stumbling block today is that I am struggling with identifying what I think my end ‘product’ will be at the end of the PhD. I remembered reading something that shed some light on how to work this out but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it.

I did a search of my Evernote notes, looked at my Notion.So database but just couldn’t find it. Then I googled it and still nothing …eventually I looked in my little pink sparkly note book that I usually use when I have had enough of the screen.

That’s where I found it … always the last place you look isn’t, but that wasn’t easy either … poor old notebook is a bit scrambled … a bit like my brain at the moment

I’ve now written a blog post so that I can find it again hopefully but I am still no further on in working out what on earth I am actually supposed to achieve at the end of it …

one win I had was I remembered a padlet that I started ages ago where I started to pull together some stuff on emotional support – I popped this as a URL link on the side bar of the blog to remind me to actually look at it !

Hmmm…. off to cook kids tea now .. tomorrow is another day

See you Tomorrow


Establishing Contribution

You know that really frustrating moment when you know you have read something really cool somewhere but you stupidly can’t find your notes on it ? Yep I just had that… the good news is by some miracle I have now remembered that it was in a hand written note. I haven’t quite got around to scanning my handwritten notes in but maybe that is something I need to sort out quite rapidly !



Any how what I was looking for was a great article that helps you work out how you might be contributing to knowledge. I should have guessed that it would be by Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega @raulpacheco his blog is just so cool. He does some really great twitter threads where he posts stuff and integrates this with his blog.

The blog post in question is called Developing the core elements of a research proposal: Finding a gap in the literature, mapping contributions to scholarship. There is a ton of really helpful stuff in this article include his suggested 5 questions for what PhD Candidates need to be able to answer about their own research and questions that help you identify the gap in the literature.

The bit that I was trying to find is the bit where he talks about the sorts of contributions that might be the end product of the PhD ( at least I think that is what it means).

He suggests things like …

An Innovative Framework

Integration of Literature

Generation of new data or collecting data that wasn’t available in the present form

~ Dr Raul Pachego-Vega June 28 2018

So, food for thought …



Huge thank you yet again Dr Pacheco-Vega.


Pachego-Vega (2018)  Developing the core elements of a research proposal: Finding a gap in the literature, mapping contributions to scholarship.