Academic Delights: Thoughts on Gratitude

Why do we do what we do? I ask myself this question with some regularity. When I’m stuck at my desk, fiddling with the same sentence for hours until my eyes cross or despairing at the state of the academic job market, I find myself asking why on earth anyone would want to do a PhD. It can be easy to fall into a negative swirl around the process of doing a PhD, but I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking recently about how to counteract these feelings.

Undoubtedly, there are challenging or disheartening parts to doing a PhD — these feelings are valid and deserve attention. Also, there is also unfairness and injustice and exhaustion in academia, which is its own separate category, deserving its own attention. I want to emphasise that nothing I am saying here is intended to minimise those facts. My exercise in gratitude has to do with counteracting ordinary “blah” feelings that come with doing a PhD and is not intended as an antidote for systematic inequality.

I’m at the start of my third year of my PhD and it has been a whirlwind so far. I can sometimes lose sight of the really lovely parts of being a PhD student in the day-to-day haze of deadlines and applications. Still, when I really reflect on it, I feel grateful to be doing a PhD and I want to embrace that feeling more often.So, I have been finding it helpful to keep a list of the parts of academic life that bring me joy, calling these my little academic delights.

I keep a version of this list on my phone and jot down ideas whenever they pop into my head. I’m sharing my gratitude list with you all because it might help you remember some of the great parts of your own PhD experience, or it might inspire you to build in little moments of delight throughout your days. I would be pleased if you would share your own moments on Twitter, perhaps using the hashtag #AcademicDelights or by tagging the @SGSAHBlog Twitter account.

Here are some of my personal academic delights:

  • Being able to take off an unplanned afternoon when a friend asks you to go for coffee or on an adventure. A less pleasant but still gratitude-inspiring version of this is being able to step away from your work for an emergency.
  • Those moments when the words finally start flowing after a period of writer’s block and suddenly, I’ve written one page or sometimes, five.
  • The heater in my otherwise draughty office, which keeps me nice and toasty, but also having an office in general. It’s nothing fancy but having a desk to call my own really helps with my routine, my productivity and my sense of belonging.
  • The special, warming tea I keep in my desk for my afternoon pick-me-up (see also: my desk stash of chocolate).
  • The high after giving a conference presentation or lecture, feeling delighted with people’s interest and engagement in your research.
  • The huge feeling of relief after sending off a chapter draft or other piece of work that has been consuming all your thoughts. I find this sense of relief is best when paired with a nap.
  • The feeling of returning to a piece of writing you finished ages ago and realising that its actually quite good.
  • Teaching a tutorial or class when things not only go smoothly, but it feels like your students have really gotten into the grove of the subject matter.
  • Buying new stationary.
  • When the obscure book you need is in the library and available for a long-term hold. Or alternatively, when the obscure book you need is digitised, or very cheap on a used book website.

Tell me what things bring you joy? What little treats do you give yourself every day or week to have something to look forward to?

Vesna Curlic is a PhD researcher in History at the University of Edinburgh and current SGSAH Blogger. Her thesis project considers the relationship between disease, disability, and the British immigration system in the early twentieth century. More broadly, her research interests include the history of medicine and science, modern immigration law, and public health policy. She splits her time between Edinburgh and her hometown of Toronto, Canada.

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