By Hazel Jones



For Christmas last year my daughter Amy gave me a journal, with my initials HJ embossed in gold, on the front. Nothing too special with that you might say, but it is the story behind those two initials that make this a very special present, and to me at least, some wonderful metaphors for life as a PhD student.



Amy, a student at ANU, has her home base in Wollongong while we as her parents live in Toowoomba, and Christmas in 2016 was spent in Hobart with my side of our family. Amy purchased the said journal at a store in Canberra on her last day there before heading, very briefly, to Wollongong and then on to Hobart. She then decided to personalise the gift by having my initials embossed on the front and headed off to a jewellers who told her it would be ready for pick-up later that afternoon.

On her return she was told, sorry it isn’t ready, you will have to come back tomorrow. This really threw Amy into a bit of a panic, and travel plans for whole family into disarray, as she had to get to Wollongong and then meet up with the rest of family for our road trip south.

Multiple online conversations later (hubby and I were on the last day of a cruise so not contactable by phone) it was decided that Amy would head to Wollongong, and return to Canberra the following day after a brief rendezvous with the whole family. So rather than travelling in convoy, Amy and brother headed to Canberra, while rest of family headed to relatives in Table Top (just outside Albury) where we were staying for the night. On arrival at the jewellers Amy was told sorry we still haven’t done this – please come back in 2 hours! So it was off to the movies for them.

Eventually present was received and they caught up with us and a very pleasant holiday was had by all. At this stage all I knew was that there was a present for someone in the family that could only be picked up in Canberra and nothing about the nature or significance of the present – that all emerged on Christmas morning.

So what does all of this have to do with researching and writing for a PhD, you ask. On a practical note that journal is now becoming a record of my reflections on my PhD journey and will be my personal account of all the highs and lows. The metaphors though are also worth considering

  • The power or perseverance: Amy could have chosen to just take the journal back from the jewellers that first day and given it to me without those two initials. By persevering she turned something simple and “off the shelf” into something special and meaningful.
  • The important things take time: what could/should have been a simple 5 minute task actually took much, much longer.
  • Look below the surface for the really interesting stories – anyone seeing that journal over the coming years will see the cover only – it is only by digging deeper that the full story will emerge – and surely that is what every PhD journey is really all about
  • We need to be adaptable – we all have to rely on others during our journey, be this participants, supervisors, data providers etc etc and not always will their priorities and time frames, match ours. As researchers we need to understand and RESPECT this and remember that without them our research would not be happening. Have a contingency plan, bash your head against a wall for a minute if needed, but then focus on the big picture.
  • Personalising the stories: the effort taken will bring many rewards
  • The importance of family: (plus friends, colleagues, networks) – they will support you in so many ways through your journey, and sometimes you won’t realise the importance of a simple gesture until much later – Remember to acknowledge and thank them
  • Two letters on a page are the start of something big (this one came from my wonderful husband Greg, who has completed his PhD journey and is now helping others on theirs). When you are staring at a blank page and have a mental melt-down (which happens to all of us) just start with too letters.

I hope everyone can take something from this personal story of mine to help on your journey.

(Happy Journeys from Hazel Jones)

PS: Post is written with full support from Amy