Shedding a skin.

I’ve quit my PhD.

Dramatic pause.

Right. Yes. I know. So close.

But not really. I don’t think it would have ever got done if I was to carry on the way I was going.

But let me explain.

I’ve been a PhD student since January 2009 (began at the University of Leicester) and have completed 3 full time funded years at the University of the West of Scotland. I am in year 4 now. The year where you need to start paying for it yourself. That really evaluates a situation. Amongst other things.

Whilst I have meant to be working and writing a PhD, some of you might have noticed that I’ve spent the last 3 and a half years working on multiple short-term projects. I used to call these projects things that were “to get me by” or things that were for the ol’ C.V. I’ve worked and taught at 4 different universities at the same time. I’ve got a qualification in teaching for higher education. I’ve managed my own freelance career on the side. I’ve learnt how to write and bid for funding applications. I’ve spent over 3 thousand pounds on train travel to make sure I could take up any opportunities flung my way – I know the UK train network pretty damn well, and I worked how to hack it so I can get from Leicester to Glasgow and back (once a week!) for under £20. I’ve taught myself to get up and talk to a public audience. I’ve ran a conference. I’ve ran a festival. Designed my own 2nd year university course. I’ve coordinated a massive citizen journalism campaign around the Olympic torch relay. I’ve delivered an insane amount of social media workshops and training sessions to a pretty impressive array of different disciplines – and I’m bizarrely asked to come and speak at events about this sort of stuff. I’ve build websites, I’ve wrote social media policy documents for a range of different clients. I’ve made films, I’ve done radio, ran events. I’ve got a fricking Guardian writer profile. I’ve even tried to be part of a group that attempted to take the teaching of the university out into the wild so that we could at least attempt imagine an alternative to the stuff we are told we should be doing. I’ve done an insane amount of ‘stuff’ – stuff that I sometimes don’t even acknowledge because I am always onto the next thing. Its the nature of the beast when you are working between it all. And much of the stuff I’ve talked about in above paragraph have been things I’ve done in the LAST 12 MONTHS.

You see. When I moved back to Glasgow back in May, I thought it might be because I was over doing it. I needed stability. I needed a base. And to an extent, I was right. I was wired to the moon. I was working in one city, jumping on a train, onto the next one, between hotel room and the next. New people, new situations. Not really stopping for anything. I thought that it was all this transient, short term, polymath-equse behaviour was just me surviving towards the big final goal point of getting a PhD and getting that illusive academic job that those with PhDs crave.

When actually, the thing that I am really good at – the thing that fills me full of the energy required to do all of the above at the same time – was doing all of that. Not the academic job, not the PhD. I bloody love travelling. I love being busy. I love trying new things.

Also, I don’t crave very much when it comes to all those things we are meant to crave. I’ve had a house, I’ve had a car, I’ve had ‘stability’ on paper – and apparently, I chucked it all away. I don’t see it being me chucking away anything actually. I think it was more me shedding a skin. A skin of expectations if you pardon my clumsy/cheesy use of language. And the PhD is the next thing that needs to go. It is a skin, an expectation. A tie. Something that has served a purpose, given me space and incentive to find my own way with things. That has opened my eyes to possibilities and the world. It is not a thing I need to do the things I want to do. A PhD isn’t going to empower me to get on with the things I enjoy doing, it is going to be something – at this very moment in time – that is going to hold me back. It is the niggle on my shoulder, it is not part of my identity and everything I read or write about my PhD, I hate. Worrying about it has stopped me reading and stopped me writing for enjoyment. Why do something that makes you feel that way?

I’ve quit the PhD in my head. I’ve started writing again. I’ve quit the PhD in my head and I can focus on some of the amazing projects that have luckily landed on my lap during a time where I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing. Where I was restricted in enjoying myself because I was taking time away from getting the PhD written.

Although I am still very much in the mist of the paperwork that I need to complete to make sure I can suspend my studies, where I might find myself returning in a year or twos time, I might not. I might change my subject area, I might spend the rest of my life working. The language of the regulation document requires me to cite ‘personal’ reasons as if it is a bad thing. But, I think I have enough education under my belt for now. The PhD has been a good safety net. But, hey I turn 28 next week. It’s time to go it alone and give those “get me by” jobs the love, care and attention they deserve. I have an amazing network around me (and in my pocket, damn iphone) so this is why I am making the decision to blog this before the dust settles. I couldn’t do anything without the people around me – and I hope that at least some of you reading this might want to join me on this journey. Or not. This way of working means I can work with anybody, or nobody – anywhere or everywhere. It is bloody exciting. I’m embracing it – because I didn’t when I had to treat it as a means to an end. I’ve been bloody lucky.

It’s going to be scatter-brain, it’s going to be messy  but for the first time in ages I am ready for this. So aye, this is going to be fun. The work begins on Monday.