Inspire me
June 8, 2013 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I am hoping to finish my phd in science in the next 12 months. Though a tiny, tiny light is beginning to appear at the end of this tunnel, getting to that light is going to be HARD. My endurance has already been severely tested by the first 4.5 years of this degree. It's hard to wrap my mind around how much more endurance and resilience will now be required. Please share any inspirational quotes that might apply here. Thanks!
posted by corn_bread to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The best thesis is a done thesis.
posted by florencetnoa at 4:05 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have kids, but I do have a PhD. I have lots of colleagues who have both, though, and they all say that having kids is loads more work, less sleep and more stress than writing up your doctorate. Loads of people have kids and don't have PhDs; they survive just fine. Ergo it's not rocket science - just a job that needs doing and gets way harder if you let it define you. This is true even if it *is* actually rocket science, by the way.

Also, the phrase "Do not let the perfect be be enemy of the good" is pretty much everything you need to know about actual thesis writing.
posted by cromagnon at 4:11 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I adapted the phrase "you go to war with the army that you have, not the army you may want or wish to have at a future time." (from Rumsfeld, god help me)
to instead say, you write the thesis with the data you have, not the data you might want or will have at a future time. This also goes for talks, posters and etc.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I appreciate advice and commentary, but what I was hoping for with this question was simply to amass a list of quotations related to motivation/endurance/etc.
posted by corn_bread at 4:23 PM on June 8, 2013

"Too many times, people don't try their best. They don't have the keen spirit; the winning spirit. And once you make it you've got to guard your reputation - every day go in like an unknown to prove yourself. "
posted by thelonius at 4:31 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Write the next sentence.
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'" - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
posted by fussbudget at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cold Lurkey: "I adapted the phrase "you go to war with the army that you have, not the army you may want or wish to have at a future time." (from Rumsfeld, god help me)
to instead say, you write the thesis with the data you have, not the data you might want or will have at a future time. This also goes for talks, posters and etc.

I quoted that exact line during my thesis defense on Thursday.
posted by The White Hat at 4:33 PM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

If the going gets tough and the pressure is on; if reserves of strength have been drained and the summit is still not in sight; then the quality to see in a person is neither great strength not quickness of hand, but rather a resolute mind firmly set on its purpose that refuses to let its body slacken or rest. --Sir Edmund Hillary

Be like the bird
That, pausing in her flight
Awhile on boughs to slight,
Feels them give way
Beneath her and sings,
Knowing that she hath wings.
--Victor Hugo

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, til it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. --Harriet Beecher Stowe

Whether adversity be a stumbling block, discipline, or blessing depends altogether on the use made of it. --Unattributed

The trick is what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. --Carlos Castaneda

The truth is that part of the essence of mountain climbing [/writing a dissertation] is to push oneself to one's limits. Inevitably this involves risk, otherwise they would not be one's limits. This is not to say that you deliberately try something you know you can't do. But you do deliberately try something which you are not sure you can do. --Woodrow Wilson Sayre

To go into the dark with a light is to know the light
To know the dark, go dark, go without sight
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
And is traveled by dark feet and dark ways.
--Wendell Berry

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man's foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. --Aldous Huxley

I'm glad that I did it, partly because it was well worth it, but chiefly because I shall never have to do it again. --Mark Twain
posted by pompelmo at 4:39 PM on June 8, 2013

posted by vrakatar at 4:59 PM on June 8, 2013

Keep calm and carry on.
posted by scratch at 5:09 PM on June 8, 2013

Every time I've moved, I reach a point where I think, "Well, now I have to move, because it sure would suck to have to take everything back out of these boxes."

Keep putting stuff in boxes and you'll get to that point, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've found "baseball is a marathon, not a sprint" to be widely applicable with X in place of baseball. The entire purpose of the exercise is the day after day, working your ass off, not a sudden burst of glory.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had four phrases that kept me going in the final six months of my PhD:

1) Keep Calm and Carry On (don't judge me! It was in the very, very early days of that phrase becoming ubiquitous!)

2) Get it Writ(ten) not Right (i.e. it doesn't matter if your thesis draft isn't perfect at first - that's why it's called a draft! Just get your thoughts down and clean it up later - don't get bogged down in making your text perfect).

3) It's a Plod Game (Writing up has very little to do with inspiration - it's just one foot in front of the other, every day, until you're done).

4) Don't Let the (Academic) Bastards Get You Down. (My grandfather was had a professorial chair - this was his piece of wisdom that I LOVED and said to myself so, so, so often!)
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 7:04 PM on June 8, 2013

I find running a useful source for these kinds of quotations.

"I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible." John Hanc

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." Steve Prefontaine

"In running, it doesn't matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, 'I have finished.' There is a lot of satisfaction in that." Fred Lebow

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” Dean Karnazes

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” Emil Zatopek
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2013

I wasn't a science major, but I still found this video motivational. It just helped to know that I wasn't alone.

The quote that keeps me going through any tough time has always been "This too shall pass."
posted by patheral at 8:59 PM on June 8, 2013

Have you had children? Wasn't it cheering (ugh) to know that labor ends. So do dental drilling procedures, and PhD theses. Hang in there. You can't waste all the years you have invested.
posted by Cranberry at 12:08 AM on June 9, 2013

I'm also a PhD student in science, and I'm finishing my 4th year now. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, too - I have solid data, my assay works, I have a great mentor and committee, and the long road to the end of my thesis is at least mapped out. Like you, there's a lot of work to be done. Actually acquiring data takes sustained, careful effort, and who knows? It might come out terribly and be unusable. Actually writing the dissertation seems like a hell of a mountain to climb. There are so many hoops to jump through, I know! And for me, there's another huge challenge on the horizon - I'm pregnant with my first child, due in December!

Here's what keeps me going:

"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." - A.A. Milne
[You really are. PhD students face a huge amount of self doubt - especially women. I can virtually guarantee that you are more capable than you know.]

"It's not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves." - Edmund Hillary
[Sometimes the language of conquering doesn't sit right with me, but if you can accept the metaphor, this quote definitely applies to PhDs.]

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." - Hellen Keller
[Hellen Keller had some really important things to say.]

"Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable than risk being happy." - Robert Anthony
[This is provocative. I often ask myself, when feeling downtrodden, whether things are really as bad as I think they are. Most of the time, they are not.]

"My definition of an expert in any field is a person who knows enough about what’s really going
on to be scared." - P.J. Plauger
[Feeling intimidated by a PhD is completely normal and probably a sign of sanity.]

"Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows." - Nisargadatta Maharaj
[This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and it applies to almost everything in life. Over the years, I keep learning how true it is, again and again. One of the best medicines for PhD anxiety is a wide perspective - really, really wide. Your project isn't the most important thing in the world - that's great! You don't have to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. But you are important and what you have to contribute is important, and you can bring that sense of worth to your job every day.]

Do you remember how nervous you felt before your qualifying exam? How about before your first thesis committee meeting? How about as you had to choose and define your thesis project? For me, each of those things seemed unmanageably large and difficult. I could hardly imagine how I was going to accomplish them. It's like looking at a huge hill from the bottom - it looks impossibly long and steep. But you've already accomplished a lot, and probably a lot of things you thought were going to be too hard. You don't have to know exactly how you'll accomplish finishing your thesis to get started, and it's by getting started that you'll see that you can do it, step by step.

Hang in there!
posted by Cygnet at 7:33 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Everything you need is already inside."

Though technically, what really got me through was, "I've got a fucking job offer that pays a lot of money."
posted by Mercaptan at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2013

Action precedes motivation.
posted by zizania at 2:06 PM on June 10, 2013

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