(Diss)pairing over my education
Scarlett Parr-Reid, Print Science Editor, shares her feelings of anxiety surrounding her dissertation deadlines
I have always been astounded by the ability of past me to be overly ambitious and make decisions which I would later regret. I mean, writing one 6000-word dissertation is not enough, right? How about two? Having written one and enduring soaring cortisol levels only perpetuated by late nights and caffeine, I’m just about ready to sleep for a year. Alas, I do not have that option.
For context, let’s rewind back to this time two months ago. Cue me crying over my laptop wanting to simultaneously write my dissertation and to destroy it. My housemate Ann Mary tried to console me, but all I could think about was primary research papers and critical appraisal. It got so bad I was having dreams about it. Massive shout-out to Ann Mary for not screaming at me every time I said I wasn’t going to pass. Grades aside, it was a mentally exhausting experience, writing a report in a style I’d never written before for I supervisor I barely knew on a completely novel topic to me. It was a recipe for confusion.
One of the biggest challenges in writing my dissertation was the fact that it never felt like I had done enough – in the planning stages, in the editing stages and even in the handing in. The curse of coursework for me has always been that I never quite feel content and neither want to start writing nor finish writing.
I was a candle burnt at both ends. It was exhausting to even look at a journal paper, let alone make extensive notes on it
Here we are in February, as I embark on writing a second literature review on another completely foreign topic. To be completely honest, I find it hard putting pen to paper without triggering those past feelings of worry and anxiety. Thankfully, after talking to some friends about their experiences writing dissertations, I swallowed my pride and booked a Wellbeing appointment so that I could talk about how I was feeling confidentially and maybe grapple with that scary topic that is burnout. I was a candle burnt at both ends. It was exhausting to even look at a journal paper, let alone make extensive notes on it. Thanks to the Wellbeing services here at Exeter – which I know have received rather mixed reviews over the years – I was able to speak out about the mental exhaustion I had suppressed. I had always avoided the prospect of mitigation, as it struck fear into me; what if they think I’m lazy or I don’t graduate on time? One of the hardest mental battles I have fought is in asking for help. I feel like a let-down or like I don’t deserve the help as much as others. Turns out we all deserve help no matter how big or small our struggles are.
Today, although I’m not exhilarated by the looming deadline for my dissertation, I know that my feelings are valid and that there are people and places that I can go to for help. I will graduate and I will get through this one step at a time. Instead of faking it till I make it and pretending that I am okay when I am not, I am transparent in the difficulties I am facing. I hope that the next VP Education here at the University of Exeter will take the feelings of students into account when they take on their role so that the mitigation process is a little less daunting.
And maybe if you are reading this and are worried about a lingering deadline, know that mitigation is there for anyone to use and that your feelings are valid and you can ask for help.