Sense of an Ending

Notes and Reflections in the post-Covid years

Hey I am still here, and yes I am still working on that thesis! Somehow, we are in 2022 and I find that I have not written on this site since the heady year of 2019 when I was doing the fieldwork and interviews for my research. Just as I was completing the collection of my empirical material, the Covid-19 pandemic and successive lockdowns came upon us. So many people have said that it’s almost as though the two years 2020-21 hadn’t quite happened and that the sense of time has altered. Even 2022 has been marked by continuing Covid cases, so we are not really in the “post-Covid” era. Indeed it has finally claimed me this very week, although as my symptoms are similar to a bad cold, I cannot really complain. 

The Strangeness of 2020

During the “lockdowns” of 2020 in particular, life was strange indeed as I wrote in my personal log back in May 2020:

“Well, we are still in lockdown – now entering the seventh week.  Unbelievably April has passed and life goes on. In this time, I have learned to write again, to find a new routine and to stop my mind being distracted by the news output. I just stopped reading it (largely) and have stopped posting so many Tweets…” 

“I have a vague background feeling of anxiety about Covid and the impact on friends and family both in terms of health and effects on their wellbeing.  This is coupled with a more general sense of dread about the global and long term impacts of the pandemic and what lies ahead (mental health, economic recession etc).  I do spend time checking in with people and this can be quite emotionally draining as well as taking me away from the thesis mindset. Covid tends to dominate conversations which can become quite doom-laden – though also humorous…” 

In a “check in” with myself in 2020, I pondered why my writing still seemed to be taking such a long time; and why I wasn’t progressing faster as I had a reduced set of other activities. I worried about other things too: that my references and writing still felt rather unstructured; that my transcriptions weren’t yet finished; that I seemed to be avoiding engaging with my data fully – perhaps because I feared that it would add up to “not much”; the findings seemed to be mighty slow in emerging from my data. Then, too, I worried about upcoming conference papers and how I would perform (imposter syndrome again). I felt anxiety that I never seemed to get on top of doctoral administrative work. In other spheres of my life, I worried that my professional and volunteering lives were being neglected. I always had ‘blogs in my head’ but it felt self-indulgent to write them and even to feed my ego putting them out there, including on this site.

From Anxiety to Practical Coping

Although my thesis writing did slow down in the lockdown years, I spent many productive and happy hours learning about Foucault’s governmentality which I came to understand was the key to linking the threads of my thesis together. In fact I made a number of thematic and theoretical breakthroughs with my research during 2021. Counting the positives, I reasoned that I was one of the lucky ones, in having a house big enough for home working and a stable and happy marriage which actually developed in some interesting ways. Like many people, we discovered our “backyard” and became more interested in wildlife. We developed a new routine and I became accustomed to studying at home at the kitchen table, something that I had not properly mastered before.

By summer 2020, I had moved from from my anxious state of mind to one of practical coping. I maintained contact and online meetings with my supervisory team. In 2021 there was a hiatus during which my Director of Studies changed and I was lucky enough to get a third supervisor! I came to terms with the reality of incomplete data due to Covid but realised that what I had would do just fine and actually was already probably too much to handle. I kept active in academic circles and maintained regular check-ins with PhD buddies, in particular my wonderful friends Eileen O’Neil, Lorraine Chiwenga, and Tamara Mulherin; and the fabulous “Policy Knowledge Practice” group. These contacts helped and still help keep me focussed and supported, and enrich the doctoral experience of being part of a community.

Progressing in the Right Direction

By the end of 2020 I was doing some really GOOD WRITING! In truth, looking back at what I did then, the framework of the thesis was all there in early 2021. And it is all progressing, albeit slowly, in the right direction. So now, as I pondered in an earlier post, when will I finish and when is a work really finished, if ever? I wrote my mammoth methodology and methods chapter in 2021, a task which many a PhD student hates but because I am a theory geek, I rather enjoyed. With my ever-supportive supervisory team, I will get there in time. But I suspect, as the great Theo van Leeuwen said of his own doctoral research in a lockdown lecture, I will probably still be pondering the meaning of my work for a very long time.