Feeling like a natural researcher

I am in my third year of my PhD and I’ve realised over the past few days for the first time I feel like a researcher.

It feels good.

There had been small glimpses previously – presenting at a conference, writing/submitting a paper – but it had not been something I have been able to hold on to. I’ve quickly been subsumed into the day-to-day focus of getting through my to-do list.

However, it’s like something just shifted in my brain – kinda like when learning to drive. You struggle and struggle having to consciously remember to put all the small tasks of driving together (gear in first, clutch in, turn the key, look in the mirrors, indicate, take hand brake off..). Thinking perhaps this driving thing is just not for me – that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with public transport and cajoling loved ones to drive me around for the rest of my life.

That’s not to say that I feel skilled as a researcher or that I don’t know I have much much more to learn. I think it’s that I feel more confident that it will all come together and that I am doing actual real and beneficial research. Who knew!?

There are a couple of key things that have happened this week.

Firstly, I attended a 2-day summit with other PhD candidates who are funded by the same organisations, the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. I went with the Imposter Syndrome-o-meter reading Very High, worried about hearing about how fabulous everyone else’s research had turned out when I’ve mostly just found it hard and perplexing. But, not surprisingly, the experiences of others were very similar to my own. Struggling with isolation, data collection and analysis, and motivation. Very few PhDs (if any) go to plan and that’s very comforting to know (though easy to forget). It was good to be around other PhD students who weren’t afraid to be vulnerable and admit that sometimes, some things are just crap.

It was through another PhD student at this summit who mentioned an article on the emotional labour that researchers do in collecting data during ethnographic or qualitative research. Being in the middle of conducting an action research study, this resonated with me so much. It validated and reassured my experience – helped me understand the emotional rollercoaster I’ve felt navigating the relationships with a range of different participants.

So much more work ahead of me, but I feel more in control and can see the path forward. That has to be a good thing.