Friday, 23 October 2015

Master of One: There is No Doctor In This House

On October 8th 2010, I was nervous.

I was presenting a PhD thesis confirmation paper to an audience of political academics, most of whom I had referenced in the document. Normally I am confident. I am usually a good public speaker, and because I can't write with a pen, I usually speak without many notes. But this was my academic livelihood I was presenting. Luckily I did well, and received universal praise. I assumed that it was the first time many had seen an academic with a disability, and so self consciously I figured that at least some of my good feedback was a direct result of simply being surprised that I was there, and that I had performed well. Regardless, I was ready to move on to my next challenge.

The next five years were the hardest of my life in every sense. Away from academia I became seriously ill, just two and a half months after that confirmation day. For a further two years I was still living with my parents, 100 kilometres away from campus, and the city where I wanted to be. And I had a severe mental illness. Then I moved out of home, and began to have the type of life I wanted to live. All the while the earth continued rotating.

There were five different changes of Australian Prime Minister, three different Queensland Premiers, three different Australian Test Cricket Captains, three different coaches of my football team, and three albums recorded by Taylor Swift in the time I took to write the PhD thesis.

In all that time I kept writing draft after draft of the chapters of my thesis, which was to be 100,000 words long, and comprised of 6 chapters. Between 2009 and 2015, I submitted 43 draft chapters. I still have them all. Yet when my two wonderful supervisors would come back with the comments, none of the drafts were anywhere near perfect as final copies. Some were of higher standard then others, and each time my supervisors would do everything in their power to make the drafts better.

Without getting too academically technical, each draft would have a variation of the same fundamental flaw. Each time I would submit a new draft, the same problems would emerge, and between my two supervisors and I, we could not solve that problem. As hard as we tried, and as skilfully as we tried the problem had become insurmountable.



On October 8th 2015, I was nervous.

I knew the dream of obtaining a PhD was over. What was once a very possible dream could not be achieved. After asking for three extensions, I had used up all my chances. I am not going to become a Doctor.

In reality, I knew this the week before. When I received my feedback on my last draft, I knew I could not finish it. I knew I had run out of time. I spent the week trying to work out ways I could possibly finish in the time allotted. It was like a giant math puzzle in my mind of which there was no solution. My supervisors had sensed the same thing, at the same time I did.

I spent an hour in their office, the sole topic of discussion was what I could salvage out of my nearly seven years of work.  I have worked far too long and far too hard to come away with nothing. For now, my supervisors have told me to take some time off, rest and recharge, before I redesign it into a Masters thesis due some time next year.

I am devastated. I've put all my energy into achieving a PhD, only for it to never materialise. I wanted to become a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science more than anything. You may not see this as a failure, but I do. Being disabled I have to be half as crippled and twice as good to succeed in life, and I am just not good enough to do a PhD.

However, I have enough perspective to know that I am in a better place in every other aspect of my life. I have freedom, I have choice. I am healthy. I am loved. I am in the place I am meant to be.

I just won't be a Doctor. And that hurts.