Integrity and the PhD

The findings of my PhD suggest two things; the sometimes annoying web of social obligation is fundamental to strong communities, and that the ability to ask for help is just as important as the ability to give help.

Today, I’m struggling to ensure integrity between my theoretical work and the practice of my life.

I’m  less than a month away from my final PhD deadline. I’ve returned to my home town to attend various social events in what I thought would be that beautiful free space between handing a draft to a supervisor and getting it back. Alas as often happens one of us was running behind and I’ve been frantically trying to socialise and address a plethora of complex and detailed comments on my draft.

I’m finally teeth chatteringly stressed.

Imperfect Companion - October 2010

Imperfect Companion – October 2010

For me however socialising of often not just a cup of tea in the sunshine. I am one of the main counsellors of my social groups and as such it is often my shoulder that is soggy. I had been here no less than two days and had at least three different tear showers from three different people. And as the week progressed it became not only tears in person, but tears on the phone and over the internet. From people I love and care about. People for whom I would, and do, prioritise above all else. I prioritise them above finishing my PhD.

Usually I manage this role with grace. This week I’m not so sure. I find myself wishing I could tell them all to f-off. To give me just one month, ONE MONTH in which my door is allowed to remain shut, opened only to allow the receipt of cakes, kind words, and referencing assistance.

And it is here I find myself in a dilemma…

The findings of my research suggest that a key part of developing and maintaining strong social networks at the neighbourhood level (and this surely applies elsewhere) is the existence of obligation. The existence of an informal accounting system in which, if we wish to access the benefits of community, we must all partake in. This means answering the door at 3am to a friend in tears, dropping someone off at the bus station in our lunch hour, and listening one more time stories of stupid boyfriends/parents/jobs.

And goodness knows that I’ve been on the crying end of such needs before.

I want to be a researcher with integrity.

I want to be the kind of academic who people can look at and say ‘look, she writes about the importance of community and obligation and manages to practice what she preaches.

But oh how this is challenging me now!

How can I sit tap-tappity tapping in my ivory tower about embracing obligations even when they are inconvenient, if I don’t let down my metaphorical hair and allow the needs of the people I love to swarm into and around my tower?

Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!

I think this issue of integrity between work and life is something we often ignore in the research sphere. I know one academic whose work I admire, but can never fully respect becuase of the knowledge that their own lives are so far from the ideals embraced by the work they do. It is a conversation that I think we need to have in order that we, as researcher, can be continued to be taken seriously.

And I know that many of you who have cried on my shoulder this week will read this and probably feel guilty. Know that I’ll chose you every time, that my shoulder is always absorbant and that my heart always with you. Because without integrity between research and life – what is there?

In turn, and also related to the findings of my research (which suggest that the ability to ask and receive can be just as generous as the practice of giving), I need to remember to ask for a sympathetic ear too. Because despite appearances, those of us with soggy shoulders often need a good cry too.


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