The relationship with your Supervisor

19 Mar

How is yours? Mine is pretty leaden with guilt, I can tell you that.

You see, my supervisor is endlessly patient, doesn’t dictate to me or even try to push me to go down a particular thought path. He doesn’t get reproachful when I don’t produce material regularly and doesn’t say things like ‘you’re not working hard enough’. (This is not to say that I don’t play these situations out in my head though :P). However, just because he doesn’t push them at me, it does not mean he does not have expectations or that it is perfectly fine for me to not be working on my PhD. When we started, he casually stated that it is possible to finish in three years. Towards the first quarter of last year, when I showed him a very rough draft of how I planned to proceed, he casually mentioned that I’d have two chapters ready by the end of that year (based on my draft). It is now the first quarter of this year and I don’t have two chapters (or any chapters) and three years looks nigh impossible.

I’m feeling pretty challenged by my PhD at this point. My topic is unclear, my fieldwork from Delhi of last year suddenly seems incomplete and not that easily comprehensible. I’m finding it hard to ‘begin’ the writing process. Per usual, I’m barely believing I have it in me to produce written material. I’m barely believing my ability to traverse through the literature I have collated (and mostly still not read). And I’m shuddering at the thought of transcribing my interviews from last August-October! Talk about procrastination! And I’m entertaining vague, non-specific thoughts about whether I’ll be able to finish, whether I’ll do a worthwhile PhD. I will not abide a routine PhD thesis.

I don’t know what is ‘normal’ sixteen months into a PhD. I do know that very few PhD students at my Centre, some of who have been at it longer than me, have written chapters. However, that is not much consolation, because it is hard to gauge productivity from chapters alone. What matters at the end of the day is one’s own evaluation of one’s work. And I do not think I have done enough.

Rationally speaking, I know there is some truth to this, but mostly also that I never think I have done enough. The truth is I have done the best I can, and there is scope to improve my best. As usual, ‘work’ for me is mostly mental. For the past two months I have been working to regain lost ground in my meditations. It is comforting to know that is my first and foremost duty and desire in life. It will prepare me to produce work.

I cannot tell my supervisor this, hence the guilt. I would hate for him to think that I am not taking the PhD seriously, or that I am not giving him sufficient regard just because he is nice. There are too many people in the world who take advantage of the nice folks. I wish I knew how to tell him how grateful I am that he is giving me space. And that I know that in the next four months I will write up two chapters.

It seems unlikely that I will get anything work-related done before I leave on my fellowship at the end of this month. I’m still reading, ofcourse, and mentally preparing myself for the upcoming re-location. I’m really, really glad for this opportunity, but me being me, I’m also a little scared. Mostly I’m scared about the impact it will have on my meditation. In Delhi, or Calcutta, if meditation is hard, I can easily reach YSS and recharge myself spiritually. I will miss this easy reach there. Then again, God has made it so that I am going to the only European country which has a YSS/SRF ashram! The only one!

One of the things I beat myself up over is the fact that my PhD allows me to not have a nine-to-five. I can have a twelve-to-three or a two-to-five-thirty and nobody can dock my pay. I feel guilt about how this is unfair, and how I would be forced to operate in a more conventional schedule if I had no option. If I had a normal job, or even a more rigid PhD programme, I would not be able to take so much time to work on my spiritual practice. But then again, perhaps I can choose to look at this mega-flexibility as a gift that allows me to work on my spiritual practice. I will possibly not have this kind of space and time again in my life. Now is the time to put my everything into developing an unshakeable spiritual discipline. It’s a gift, so take a hike, guilt!

I need to write down my goals for the upcoming four months. There are two main ones: two chapters that will justify my Supervisor’s patience with me! And twice daily meditation.

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2 Responses to “The relationship with your Supervisor”

  1. Peter Wells aka Countingducks March 19, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

    I think a PhD is a challenging undertaking at the best of times, because you are pretty much setting your own targets and orchestrating your schedule for the first time, while dealing with a demanding academic standard. As to the writing, I am always impressed by the clarity of your writing on this Blog and your ability to reason over things in a dispassionate and clear manner, so you show every sign of having a great ability. I have faith in you

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