I’m sure it doesn’t feel like this to everyone else but I’ve had three very similar situations recently and they’ve all felt the same.
Situation 1: building up to my MA dissertation proposal.
Situation 2: tentatively figuring out a PhD proposal, working alongside someone I admire (and who is so very, very clever).
Situation 3: being challenged to write my own assignment question for a topic about which I knew
nothing less than nothing.
I’d probably say that these are unintentionally ranked in terms of my levels of confidence – and it surprises me that the PhD proposal felt a little less daunting than the assignment question!
As a passionate reader, English graduate and teacher of English, I frequently fall into figurative language to explain how I’m feeling, so bear with me. Also, I apologise in advance if you are a meteorologist and this analogy is flawed at best and laughably inaccurate at worst.
In each of these situations, the initial research experience felt as though I was staggering into a tornado, clutching a sparrow egg of an idea. Initially, I cradled the tiny egg, keen to keep it safe but its fragility wasn’t the only issue; I also had to travel unscathed through the swirling debris of distraction, other people’s ideas and literature. Eventually, after being turned around, pushed back and, once or twice, knocked down, I made it to the middle. The eye. Everything was still spinning and eddying around me but, at last, I could hear my own thoughts and catch my breath. Not only that, the egg was close to hatching.
All was well.
Except for the fact, so close to the birth of the idea, I then had to exit the tornado, through the violent vortex again. The fear of losing the egg was more tangible and pressing on the second leg of the journey because it was closer to hatching. What if it struggled through the shell only for the hatchling to be crushed before it had gulped its first breath? Leaving the storm was harder than entering it because the twisting, churning mess was comprised of my own self-doubt and imposter-syndrome. If it all went wrong at this point, it would be at my own clumsy hand.
Along the way, I have developed some techniques to cope with the experience of journeying into the research storm, particularly with help from my personal tutor and some excellent mentors. I have no idea how to work on exiting the storm or the aspect that should be (theoretically, at least) within my control: me.