Every now and again I go on a training course where I'm reminded that I should have a three different 'descriptions' of my PhD.
A two minute intro
A one pager - or lift speech (elevator pitch?)
A one paragraph, 2-3 sentence summary.
Anyone who's tried explaining 'what you do' to someone outside of your field, you'll know how hard this is. The nature of a PhD is that 'literally everyone' is eventually outside of your field, that's the point, new and original.
For Interdisciplinary PhD researchers this just happens a bit earlier.
I am mid PhD, so I am at the bottom of a deep deep trench that is full of rich rich data. I hope. I really really hope it's the proper stuff, the real stuff that when applied to theories will create fertile ground in which new knowledge will spring forth.
I have some great gifs and very pretty graphs
(genuinely proud of this - it shows the phreatic levels, (sort of the water table) in catchment, during and post the flood event I'm studying - developed using SHETRAN )
But this is the 'only partially analysed' stage, the stage where you really really hope it's rich as the best manure, but you suspect you may be wading through a pile of complex poop of your own creation.
Being at this stage whilst trying to pretend that known world isn't collapsing around us has it's advantages and disadvantages.
When I do have to try and explain what I'm doing I find myself saying 'I hope', 'it might', 'we expect that', and really not enough 'I've found'....
At the moment I rarely have to do this, as, in the same boat as everyone else, I'm 'working from home' and my fieldwork diary has been wiped.
I also have nothing to do other than to keep ploughing on. A lack of contact is making it even easier to get lost in the 'what is this all about' thoughts, so every now and then I still have to practice my lift speech, and try and make it sound like I know where this is going. Sitting at home on my own when I don't really know what the data says yet makes this very difficult.
However, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel in regards the watershed, catchment modelling I've been doing. I've really enjoyed combing through participant interview data and maps to find the information on which to build new alternative landuse scenarios. Reliving some sunny days walking around farms, and remembering the importance of this data and the people working in the catchment. I also love a graph and a map, and I think I'm starting to be able to see patterns emerging amongst the colourful lines.
Alongside all of this I'm trying to write up a paper based on earlier research into understandings of forest.. a philosophical and practical policy conundrum that has really made my brain ache! It's been a nightmare, but there's something down on paper now, and I can see how it might take shape.
I'm taking part in a number of conferences in late August and early September and I think getting some of the key ideas down, drafting that lift speech, will really help. I think it will also help talking to people who are in exactly the same position that I'm in, sharing stories and coping mechanisms.
But is doing a PhD in a pandemic any different to doing a PhD any other time? I don't know, this is the only one I've done. But I have a little hope now, and hope tends to bring hope. If I feel better about one thing I feel better about the rest. I think I'm finding my way out of the 2nd year trench; the trench has been deep, but the paths up are beginning to appear. And with absolutely no justification, that makes me have hope for the rest of the world as well.