Last week, I had a meeting with my advisor. I wanted to see how I was doing, what I should be doing, and where I was going with my studies. I think what I really needed to know was whether or not I was still on the right track and not getting distracted by x, y, or z. To be honest, I was feeling like I was falling behind a little.

The winter semester has been harder for me than the Fall semester, and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it, trying to make sense of it all. It’s because it simply does not make sense: in the fall, I was very busy (I was taking three classes), I was trying to get oriented on campus and St. John’s, and basically learning how to live in Canada. Yet, I did it all, and well. This semester, I have more free time (I only have two classes), and yet, I am exhausted and I feel like I am accomplishing less. At least, that is what I thought. Talking with my advisor made me realize that I am accomplishing differently.

During the fall, I still had all that energy from taking a year off academia between my MA and my PhD, and I was basically just super excited at all the possibilities that starting a PhD opened up for me. I had very practical goals in mind, like:

  1. Take three classes and pass them
  2. Get involved in writing/publishing/conferencing
  3. Start research on my thesis topic because (awesome!) I already know what I want to work on

And so I did.  In contrast, I have been feeling less efficient this winter semester, because:

  1. I am only taking 2 classes, instead of the three I was taking last semester
  2. I am not doing any more research on my thesis topic, and instead procrastinate by reading about unrelated topics
  3. I need more rest (I got sick, and the snow makes me want to stay in bed more).

Meeting with my advisor helped, because it made me realize that I was doing what I was supposed to do. She was actually quite happy to see that I was getting stuck with my thesis topic, and that I was no longer sure of anything I thought I wanted to study. She made me realize that it’s what grad school does to you, it breaks the certainty you might have and ask you to find what you are truly interested in, not simply do something you know you are good at. When I started the PhD program, in the fall, I described myself as someone who studies “autobiographical comics by women”. After all, this is what I researched for my MA. I like autobiographical comics, and I know them well. It made sense to keep getting further that way.

However, I took the opportunity to explore the field of comic studies at large, and move away from my own little niche of women’s graphic memoirs, by taking classes and writing abstracts for conferences and publications. My friends and classmates also encouraged me to read comics I would have never been drawn to on my own. Getting to read new genres of comics, and learning about topics I never considered before was super exciting and fun, so much that I chose to set aside my own “self-declared research specialty” for a while. My advisor took notice of it, so when I went to see her to talk about my lack of progress, and having the impression to be stuck, she encouraged me to take some time to think about what I was truly passionate about and what I was ready to dedicate some years of my life to. In other words, I have not been wasting my time this semester, I haven’t accomplished less. Rather, I have (finally!) come to the conclusion that what I thought I would be researching for my PhD is not (yet) set in stone, and that I am allowed (and encouraged!) to pick a topic I do really care about. I am looking forward to the spring semester now, and spending time drafting a thesis proposal I will be excited about!

And what about that feeling of laziness? Well, talking with the other students made me realize that I am not alone in feeling unmotivated and sleepy this semester. I’ve had enough winter already and from what I’ve heard, that’s a quite common feeling here. I just have to make sure to have enough vitamin D and embrace the winter weather. I also have a pile of books to read for classes near my bed and I “procrastinate” efficiently, staying in and reading until noon, in my pyjamas. I no longer write in the morning like I used to last semester, I do it in the afternoon or at night, instead. Perhaps I’m finally embracing my true nature: I’ve always been a night owl, anyway.

See you in the spring!