In the United States, PhD students take 2-3 years of course work before starting on their theses. Despite being in the program since Fall 2017, I only completed my coursework last semester. I was required to take 3 years of coursework. The American PhD is a very lengthy process. Thankfully, I now only have my thesis to worry about.
Nevertheless, writing my prospectus has not been a walk in the park. I agonized over it for weeks on end.
The hardest part of doing research in the humanities is finding something new to say. It can often feel like everything has already been done. In popular culture, research is synonymous with looking things up on Google. But that’s not true research. Academic scholarship makes an original contribution to existing knowledge. To obtain a PhD, I must demonstrate that I am asking new questions or taking a new angle on a topic.
I must admit that I contemplated quitting my PhD dozens of times in the past month. This is actually a first for me. Up until now, I’ve always felt that I am meant to do a PhD in French literature. It has always felt like a calling. Nevertheless, the challenge of writing a proposal made me doubt my abilities. No one prepares you for how different research is from writing term papers. I had to overcome many limiting beliefs to push through this proposal, during a pandemic, with the most minimal social contact.
2020 has been a trying year for everyone, but I have come to recognize what a privilege it is to have a job during a pandemic. I’ve also realized that I want to continue in this program. Producing original research will be the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, but I am excited to see where this project will take me.
Despite what the Wall Street Journal might tell you about doing a PhD, it’s really hard. Completing a PhD in the humanities, in education, or in the social sciences is not a straightforward process. It can be just as unpredictable as in the hard or natural sciences. That’s research.
After over a month of self-doubt, I am happy to say that I submitted my proposal to my committee today.