n my work a week before supervision so they have time to comment and review. The day I have to hand it in is always clearly marked in my diary. For years now I don’t necessarily think in weeks or months, I think in supervision-to-supervision-periods. And the day I can hand in my work is the day I do what I do best: worry about what they are going to say. I know I am not alone in this. Many conversations with other PhD-students include the words supervisor, supervision, and revision. Surely, you know the sinking feeling when you find well-meant comments, all over what you thought was pretty decent writing.
I know what I want them to say. I just want them to say my work is brilliant. I want them to praise my ingenuity; I want them to be in awe of my genius. When they give me their comments I just want to see nothing other than little tick marks and scribbles saying ‘yes’, ‘good’, and ‘OK’. I want an overall message that I should never even think about changing anything in the text I wrote. Ever.
Everyone needs to dream!
In the real world I usually sit through two hours discussing their comments as they constructively point out every weakness in my work. Of course, there are some tick marks and some paragraphs have a scribbled ‘good’ next to it, but most of the document is drenched in comments. Sentences or words I worked hard to find are crossed out and rewritten. Although their overall comment usually mentions I have done well it is immediately followed with a general message of what needs to improve. And so far, I have not yet been called a genius. I know… shocking!
Rationally I know this is just how it works. I slave away for a few weeks, hand in my work and receive it back with comments to enhance what I have written and to develop my academic skills. It is the endless cycle, these are the inflexible pillars of the process of PhD-ing. But as hard as I try, I am not a very rational person. My emotions usually get in the way, until they take over entirely. I look at the comment-soaked pages and even though I tell myself this is what is supposed to happen, I cannot help but be a little sad… and a little irritated.
But as the PhD cycle restarts the moment I leave the professor’s office, I get back to work. I read every comment, edit the text, add bits here and delete sections there. And during my respectful approach, just once in a while I dare to cross off one of their comments as I mumble with great satisfaction: “That does not make sense”. As I move closer towards the day I have to hand in my work for the next supervision session, I realise that the piece I have been working on has indeed improved. The line of argument is now actually noticeable and the paragraphs are more focused and to the point.
I read through the text for the very last time and decide that it looks good. I press sent. Supervision is a week away. I try not to worry too much about what they will say and instead decide to try out one of those popular strategies to success: visualise your way to achieving your goals. As I stare into space I see myself walking into the office and even before I sit down they shower me with compliments. Do I hear you laughing? Never mind, for just one week I am allowing myself to dream my way to success. Soon enough supervision will do what it always does… put my feet firmly on solid ground. I guess visualising helps, but hard work will always remain the basis of PhD success.