Waiting, waiting, waiting …

By Fiona Russo

This year, I have waited.  A lot.

I have waited for acceptance into the program, for the provision of a dataset we’re trying to acquire (for which we are jumping through some crazy hoops including a full ethics application!), for a rare text to come in, for the outcome of a scholarship (unsuccessful) and then a fellowship (undetermined) application, for feedback from my supervisory team, for publication peer reviews, for ethical approvals, for Confirmation – it can seem like a series of never ending waiting rooms with no doctor in sight (pun intended).

I’ve been ticking along with the mindset that this is all just administrative, and therefore outside of my control.  I’m on someone else’s timeline, one task in their long list of things to do.  Next year, I tell myself, I’ll be Confirmed and ready to start my studies.  Next year, it’ll all be down to me.  I can set the pace, and things will naturally pick up.  Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but I’m really excited to ‘just get down to business’.

I can hear the dissonant cries of my HDR colleagues from here – and I know how naïve that sounds.  My second- and third-year peers are still waiting.  They’re waiting for recruitment of participants, buy-in from partners, allocation of resources, feedback from supervisors, peer reviews, texts, and so many other things.

When we submit writing to our supervisors, it’s difficult to decide how many changes we should be making before their feedback is received.  When we submit papers for publication, should we just forget about them entirely or keep updating references and making editorial changes in the intervening weeks (or more likely months)?  When is it better to reluctantly admit that our target for recruitment is unachievable and alter the study rather than wait for more respondents and risk the timeline?

There’s a strange dichotomy in pursuing a PhD.  On the one hand, it’s a very solitary, self-guided journey.  On the other, we find ourselves often at the mercy of other stakeholders and their rules and timelines.  This can interrupt the flow of output in a dramatic fashion, and I certainly find this myself.  I am a time-poor mother of four, the eldest graduating this year and the youngest entering a Special School prep year in 2017.  My energy is frenetic because I have strictly allotted ‘work times’ that have to be productive. As the old adage says, ‘if you want a job done quickly, ask a busy person’.

My question to other HDR students is this:  how do you manage these ‘waiting periods’?  Is it just a matter of having multiple tasks on the go at any given time so that when one hits the proverbial brakes you can just concentrate doubly on the other?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wishing you all unimpeded progress into the holiday season and beyond!