How do you know if you are just not capable of doing a PhD?

I feel really ashamed and embarrassed because I am behind with my project but it shouldn’t be like this. I have had to do no data collection, no transcribing, no recruitment of participants, no long observations, no travelling far distances or learning a new language,  nothing. All my data was there from day one, even before day one, I had my data long before I even started the PhD. But I am finding it a real struggle to analyse it. I can’t code beyond the descriptive. I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to do anything intelligent with it. My supervisors say to keep the project simple, but what about if I am not really capable of that either.

People give you pep talks and say you can do it and they believe you can do it. They seem to have this vague notion that you are intelligent. Of course they are going to say that. It’s just my swishy wool coat and smart leather bag that makes me appear intelligent you know. They want to spur you on. But what about if I am really just not capable?  I remember loving biology at sixth form and I had 100% attendance, but that still didn’t mean I could do it. I scrapped through with an E grade. And it is like with my steelpan playing. Turn up for practice and practice at home doesn’t make you a great musician.

But I will persevere, like I did with biology and music. Deep down I don’t fully believe that I can’t do it, there is still a small amount of hope there, I want to do it, I want my supervisors to love what I have done,  I want to have a PhD and I want to do this project.

But perhaps I am like those deluded people on The X-Factor where everyone around them says they can sing until it is too late and they have embarrassed themselves in front of a large audience.

Oh no, am I a bit like Jedwood in the thesis writing world? Well meaning, nice but ultimately a bit shit?

  1. This is familiar territory for many and represents a real pinch point in the PhD and in most research projects. The data analysis always starts off being descriptive, it’s part of the process. The next step is often to take a step back, not to force it. Go back to the theory, see if and how it fits or doesn’t fit, if it asks any new questions. This might be a case of the theoretical model not quite playing out as planned, in that the data points to something slightly different going on. It might even be more fundamental than that – the theory doesn’t work at all. The other bit of criticality can be playing bits off against each other – are there any contradictions in the data? For example, I interviewed students who thought that universities should generate their own incomes but at the same time that research was/should be driven by curiosity (not income). You’ve got something new and interesting in your findings, it’s just a case of not working out exactly what/where it is. Push on!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kathryn said:

    It’s a bit creepy how closely this follows the narrative in my head…! Though I think you have the advantage over me because perseverance is not my strong suit. Typically when things get hard I switch to something else – thus developing the image that I am good at everything I do, because I only do things I am good at. Before I started the PhD, I would have classified writing as one of those things I am good at, but am also having to reevaluate that… But like you, I don’t really believe I can’t do it, and so this time I will hang in there! Good luck to us both 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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