I just returned from the digital methods summer school (post forthcoming). It was the first time I’ve attended an international event for phd students, and in the inevitable dinners and drinks that followed long workshop days, I learned a lot about how phd programs differ. One thing that surprised me, was how consistently the most thoughtful and productive people seemed to describe the leisurely aspect of their work.
“It’s like an early retirement,” said one, which you get early and only once, so you might as well enjoy it. This sounds like lollygagging, but it’s not. These were people who publish and produce a lot of meaningful work, but they also described a lot of lazy days and consciously making time for unstructured thought and aha moments.
There’s a correlation there that I’m going to continue exploring. I’ve dramatically increased the amount of sleep I get since starting my phd, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence how much more productive my working hours are. There’s also the plain fact that I am thinking carefully these days about things I never had time to consider when running an NGO, and having time to think is producing novel approaches I don’t think I could have come up with otherwise.
All in all it’s relaxing, and feels less like retirement than vacation, but a vacation without vacating anything, just sitting comfortably within a loose set of questions and interests, rolling around in them until potential solutions reveal themselves, and then rolling around some more in order to question those solutions and see if they hold.
It’s a staycation of sorts, and it seems to be both a privilege and a powerful method.
Of course, how long that can be maintained when dissertation deadlines loom is another question.The hallways of my institute are riddled with frazzled final year phd candidates who don’t resemble this at all. But I’ll do my best to keep it going through my doctoral defense and beyond.