In September 2010 I defended my thesis on Stoic philosophy and this summer the journal Mnemosyne published my summary announcement in their section Dissertationes Batavae. Needless to say I’m quite proud, but also it feels very strange to encounter work from the past again in this way: it partly seems to come from a different world. Two years ago, I could not imagine being where I am now. Finishing my thesis was a struggle. How I would have loved to know some of the things I know now!
That love and the sense that I was not alone feeling like that have helped me for the past two years to shape my dream of assisting struggling PhD’s and postdocs in a personal and professional way.
Many PhD candidates that approach the end of their project develop a “less love / more hate” relationship with their thesis topic. Often the key to reversing that development and keeping engaged is to change or widen your perspective on your topic and your project. This is surely difficult and can also be scary, because you have to go on thin ice and be prepared to make grand gestures that you feel may not withstand close scrutiny. I’ll give a personal example.
Barely two years ago the words and ideas behind my introductory summary in Mnemosyne fully engulfed my mind, but I could hardly believe I would ever again be enthusiastic about the topic of my thesis. Yet, if I approach it now from a broad and present-day perspective I can still feel some of the fire. What still comes to mind when I reread my introduction: amazement about how more than 2 millennia old theories and ideas can still teach us a lesson that is very up to date and timely. In my PhD project I analyzed Stoic philosophical engagement with non-philosophical, layman views about nature, the gods, and the good. In a way, this is similar to some types of exchange that happen nowadays between the scientific perspective and religiously oriented views. Science is supposed to be exact and objectively true, while (from a scientific point of view) religious claims about the world, god, and the morally good are vague and prone to error if true at all. As the Stoics put it (or so I argued in my PhD thesis): (Stoic) philosophy has a firm claim to truth in these matters, whereas traditional myth has only a dim understanding at its core that is to be re-interpreted from under layers of incorrect, superstitious phantasies. The Stoics approached these mythical ideas that often lay very far from their own doctrinal truth with admirable open-minded and respectful attitude. Imagine the most dominant scientists of our time so seriously engaged with the widest range of religious views known (not just the Western monotheists, but also Eastern and polytheistic views as well as New Age, etc.), using quasi standardized scientific interpretative methods backed by an epistemological theory! Despite the slightly smug superiority of the Stoic/scientific stand, isn’t this an awesome attempt at being open to other viewpoints and at creating harmony between apparently totally opposite views?
So far for my own example. What is the bigger story you tell about your research? Please share it in the comments: your fellow PhD’s and postdocs will be grateful for the inspiration and hope you give them.
Are you currently in a ‘more hate’ relationship with your thesis topic and do you wonder how you can ever rekindle your enthusiasm? Drop me a line and I’m sure together we can rediscover your fire!