I’m a runner and when you’ve been running for a while, no matter how slow or begrudgingly you go, you figure out what works for you. I can’t eat before I run. I need at least a good hour between eat and street otherwise I get that hot, kind of queasy sick feeling. Not quite verge-of-vomit but definitely uncomfortable. Turns out thinking about my confirmation of candidature presentation has the same effect. Logically, it’s ridiculous. I do not have a problem with public speaking, I have had positive feedback from my supervisors on my most recent draft, I’ve still got 10 weeks to prepare. Nonetheless, there’s that itch of insecurity. I refer extensively to the work of one of my panellists and I have the (completely irrational) feeling he’s going to stand up halfway through and say something like, “No. No, you’ve got that all wrong, how could you possibly misunderstand that? You’ve insulted me and my life’s work. Get out.” Then I will leave and walk home, it will inevitably start to rain, and I will think about the years I’ve wasted as a bus drives past and predictably splashes mud all over me.
I was explaining all this to a friend over drinks the other day, musing that all this work could have been for nothing, that I may have wasted years of my life, that my clothes will get all muddy from the imaginary bus-puddle incident etc, etc. My friend wisely cut me off and summarised my rambling: “So what you’ve been doing for twelve months could be completely wrong?”. Oh god. It was said as a joke, this particular friend does not have a molecule of spite or malice in her entire being, she spent most of the conversation reassuring me with saintly patience. Yet that line has circled around my brain like a vulture eyeing off a particularly tasty zebra carcass.
It’s ridiculous that a throwaway comment has stayed with me, and that these irritating insecurities are lingering. The purpose of confirmations is not to make PhD students cry or break out in a rash, it’s to make sure we’re on the right track and to provide a bit of a sounding board. It’s an opportunity to get feedback from outside of your supervisory team, a different perspective that may pick up on something you’ve missed. The majority of students pass and continue with their candidature with no issues. My brain knows all of this, yet I still can’t think about it for too long with that hot, sick feeling rolling into my stomach like I’m up to kilometre 3.5 straight after lunch.
I tried a different approach to assuage some of my paranoia and asked some fellow PhD friends about their confirmation experiences. They were, if possible, less comforting. “It’s no big deal,” they said. “Don’t even worry about it.” It’s all well and good for them, they’re almost finished PhDs! They’re geniuses… Genii? I don’t even know the plural of genius! How am I supposed to get through my confirmation??
I think I’ve figured it out though. The problem is not that I have an over-active imagination or watch too much TV. It’s not that I have to make a 30-minute presentation of my work in front of some of the best minds in the field I’m trying to get into. It’s not even that my work might not be good enough. It’s my friends. I need new friends.