I wish I could read a whole book without being distracted by the ideas I get

I just read Fannie’s post on how she struggles to find the time to write her thesis, and I couldn’t help noticing some similarities with my situation, in spite of the fact that we are at two different stages of our research—she is writing her thesis, I am defining and planning mine.

Last year I started my PhD in an amazing program that requires the completion of several courses, with an original—relatively vague—research question in mind, and with the awareness that this idea was going to be revised in the light of these courses. I saw—and still see—these courses as an inspiring source of tools and ideas, as well as an opportunity to acquire up-to-date knowledge from professors that I think deserve the title of pioneers.

Now, at the end of the fifth of these courses, several months before my comprehensive exam, everything is proceeding more or less according to the plan: I have new ideas to better shape my research, and I’m figuring out how to combine everything and make a plan that works. Easier said than done.

Truth is, I am spending my time reading books and articles, but I regularly get distracted by the new ideas, links and case studies that appear in my mind, inspired by these readings. And I wonder: Should I keep on reading and probably forget about this new idea, or should I follow it, consider its feasibility, and stop reading for the umpteenth time? On the one hand, I just want to finish reading and put a check next to that book, while, on the other hand, I remind myself that some of the ideas that had a huge impact on my life and career emerged almost by chance from that chaos of thoughts, and thus ignoring these thoughts might be a regrettable decision. I usually opt for following my thoughts, as the books don’t fade away, while my thoughts do. And since PhD students are supposed to produce original research, I guess I have to prioritize what gives me a chance of doing something new, rather than what makes me learn more—even though a good preparation is essential, as new knowledge can’t be built on ignorance.

It’s a difficult trade-off, no doubt. And these days I really wish my mind were less crowded and tidier. But I am aware that a rich chaos, if well managed, can be very fruitful. And thus I let it be, confident that I will be able to float on it soon enough.


Banner picture by @gradlifemcgill Instagrammer @christinekts // @gradlifemcgill

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