A Bit on the Side: On Having Future/Sideline Projects

As I indicated in my first post on this blog, I am currently in the writing-up year of my PhD in Hispanic Studies and Film & Visual Culture.  This is the fourth year I have spent working on my doctoral dissertation.  I love my topic.  But this does not mean that, from time to time, I look forward to future projects I will be able to tackle once my thesis has been submitted.  This is an experience I’ve seen my friends go through.  As they near the end of their time as doctoral students, as they become experts in their fields, as their area of research becomes increasingly familiar, and thus arguably less exciting, new thoughts, new ideas, and new projects become all the more attractive and inviting.  I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this experience.  And I think that it is part and parcel of being a researcher – having a keen interest in learning, learning more, learning new things.

ImageImage from http://www.freeimages.co.uk/galleries/workplace/office2/slides/notebook_and_pencil.htm

It is for this reason that I have a ‘Future Projects’ notebook.  In fact, this is something I started in November 2010, when I had just entered the second year of my PhD.  It was recommended by my supervisor following a meeting in which I had identified a motif in Spanish cinema that has yet to be explored in detail – the depiction of food and mealtimes.  This has nothing to do with my doctoral project; it was simply a recurring theme that I had picked up on when scouring several different Spanish film objects to compile my filmography.  My supervisor advised me to write it down in a notebook, and to label this notebook ‘Future Projects’.  Since then, I have dutifully scribbled down any ideas I have in terms of things I’d like to work on when I’ve finished my doctoral research.  I have no clue as to whether any of these future areas of investigation will prove fruitful when/if I carry them out.  But for now, simply knowing that I have a handful of ideas I can turn to on submission of my PhD, to fill the PhD void (another common sensation after completion according to those I know who have submitted) is both comforting and exciting.

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Image from http://www.raindance.org/lightbulb-jokes-for-filmmakers/

While these ideas constitute fodder for future conference papers and/or articles, it is worth noting that the experience of doctoral students today, at least as far as I have seen, is epitomised by the act of balancing their PhD research alongside a number of other ‘sideline projects’.  On a personal level, the last four years have been a juggling act between PhD research; teaching on multiple modules in different departments and disciplines; other paid work; writing conference papers; attending conferences/workshops/seminars; organising conferences/workshops/seminars; keeping up with family and friends; and finally, trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.

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Image from http://www.oxfordschoolblogs.co.uk/psychcompanion/blog/category/psychology-as/stress/

This can of course become extremely stressful at times; however, what it also does is allow you to appreciate the importance of your doctoral research.  When there are other constraints on your time, the time you do have to spend on your own work becomes even more precious, and can lead, again at least in my own personal experience, to higher levels of productivity.

For me, the value of having ‘a bit on the side’ while completing your PhD is thus twofold.  On the one hand, the promise of future projects is exciting, is something to look forward to, and inspires you to keep going.  On the other, the contemporaneous sideline projects, the ones that take you away from your research, force you to evaluate the significance of your work, to refocus your energies and motivation precisely at the point that they are waning.

Any feedback/comments/questions welcome!  How do you cope with juggling your PhD research alongside other projects and commitments?  Do you have a ‘Future Ideas’ bank?  What form does it take?  What constitutes your ‘bit on the side’?

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