By Oresta Muckute |
I am lucky enough to only have one ‘real’ responsibility during a time of global crisis: getting some fully-funded PhD work done. All the articles about the impact of the pandemic—having no childcare provision, having to provide help to vulnerable family members, and being ill yourself—on your academic work are popping up in many corners of the internet. It can, and does, make many of us feel guilty if we are young and lucky enough to have few, if any, dependants in our lives. Many of us are also in a position where we do not have to worry about our financial situations any more than during any other month of May. The feeling of ‘I should be writing! At least reading!’ gnaws some of us even more now than it usually would. An academic job (and that’s what I would call a PhD) by its very nature means that there is always something else to be read, written, marked, reviewed, renewed, redrafted, updated and planned.
I am, and have always been, a huge proponent of work-life balance where the scale is very visibly weighed down on the life side. If there was a time where I would feel the need for this balance even more so than usual, it would expectedly be a global pandemic threatening my and my loved ones’ lives, right? For the reasons above, however, it is difficult to feel this way.
Guilt is an emotion which many psychologists consider to be a self-conscious emotion that arises from our need to seek social survival. It is unlike other emotions you might feel during a pandemic, such as fear or sadness, which are more commonly associated with your physical survival in this world. Academic guilt might sneak up on you at any time; have you, like much of the world, been binging shows on your preferred streaming service to get lost in a world without a pandemic for seven hours, or just because the plot is so interesting, or the actors are so beautiful, and found yourself thinking about work?
Academic guilt is not useless – a randomly timed kick from it might actually make you get some work done. Everyone has had that spark of inspiration at 8pm on a Saturday where they knew they have to finish drafting that paragraph that they’ve been avoiding for three weeks. But excessive guilt, as is obvious from the qualifier, is, well, excessive. You should be allowed to care even less at a time when you are living through a major world-history event—especially if you too, like me, are totally physically alone in this unprecedented, scary time.
Caring for yourself is also a caring responsibility.
Of course, as much as I hope that you prioritise yourself, you should still be a responsible researcher, colleague and friend. Our Chair, Tim, has recently shared some valuable insight into getting work done. There is a possibility that we might feel annoyed at ourselves in a year’s time. But we can’t allow ourselves to be blinkered by this worry. Our peers, friends, family and perhaps most reassuringly, examiners, are most likely feeling the way you are. There will always be those people who can get work done even during the worst personal times, and once again they will be the ones who are hardly scathed by this experience. Maybe it will be you. But it’s totally fine if not. All of us will have had our work affected in some way – whether it’s by loss, growth, fear, or hope.
To those who scrolled down to the bottom for a short summary paragraph: it is OK to not feel up to it during an uncertain, horrible time. Yes, even if you don’t have ‘real’ responsibilities. Yes, even if you’re just feeling sad for yourself living in interesting times. Yes, even if you think you think others have it harder.
Oresta is a first year Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD student in history, studying the narratives of loss and suffering in the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century. She is a contributions editor for Pubs&Pubs, and awaits your contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Oresta’s Google Calendar