I had some big news this week. I guess I was kind of expecting it at the back of my mind but seeing it written in black and white was hard. I have finally after many years got to say goodbye to number 4 on my 12 for 2012 list. My thesis is no longer and I have formally been marked as 'failed to complete.'
I have spent the past 3 or 4 years going round and round in thesis circles. Should I quit? Should I try and carry on? There have been a few times where everything has perfectly aligned and I've been back on track and writing for a couple of months. Another few thousand words would get written, stuff sent to my supervisors. For a while I'd feel elated, positive and ready for the perhaps impossible task of writing 80,000 words, working with two supervisors based in two different universities and now far away from where I live, looking after 3 young children, a business, oh and how could I forget...start-up life. Thanks to start-up life we have also had to move house four times in the passed six years, which has also added a lot of disruption.
My thesis has been my thing for a long time. When I first went to university as an undergraduate I feel in love with academia. I knew that I wanted to do a further degree at some point and I loved the idea of becoming an academic. In my late 20s I was awarded a studentship for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, meaning I could leave my job and study full-time. I had two amazing, inspiring supervisors and made some really special and equally inspiring friends. I was researching a subject very close to my heart and I got to spend days at Kew Gardens, travel to Thailand and Spain, and research, read, talk, present at conferences, and just completely immerse myself in academia and my chosen subject. It was wonderful.
But a couple of years into it all arrived our beautiful daughter Imogen and my world changed in the most beautiful, special way. Motherhood was simply everything I had ever dreamed of and more. And alongside becoming a mother I was also becoming a professional photographer. My longterm love of photography was, it turned out, starting to turn into a business. Word of mouth and the internet was meaning that my business was growing much faster than I ever expected. Photography was something I always dreamt of doing but only in that part of my mind where dreams are kept. Not achievable dreams but just beautiful daydreams that are nice to think about from time to time. I couldn't believe that one of them really was turning into reality and I couldn't let that go.
So, I quickly had a daughter, a growing business and a thesis. Nearly all my research had been done before Imogen was born, so that was a good thing. I just had to write it all up. And so I kept telling myself for the next few years. Just write it. But the trouble is that PhD writing isn't just writing, it's writing with references, and it's writing that requires you to be immersed in it. It's an 80,000 word thesis, so it's a huge document to be working with. Plus all your field notes, interviews, journal papers, books etc. It's a PhD, it's not meant to be easy!
I got to the point of quitting many times but I could never let it go. I didn't ever want to blame my children or my husband for my failure or disappointment. I didn't ever want it to come up in the heat of the moment in an argument many years later. But for some time I did feel like I had had to make a massive sacrifice for my children and my husband's start-up life. But then one day I woke up and my feelings about my PhD had changed. At one point it was my everything but things had happened, which had changed that. My everything has become my beautiful family. Yes, I'd still like to get a PhD one day and perhaps I will. But right now I am really happy with where I am. I am not Dr Quinton (or at least not for now) but I am Mrs Quinton, a very happy mother of three and a successful photographer.
I have also got to the point where I don't feel like I have failed (well, almost anyway!), I feel like I've just changed direction. As one of my wonderful and patient supervisors said, "you haven't failed, you have just ended up at a different place to the one you started out aiming for." I cried when I read that because it summed it up so perfectly. It has still taken me nearly a year to agree with it though. And failing isn't something that should be seen as a bad thing. After all "fail fast, fail often" is an important start-up mantra, and surely one we can apply to other things to. Unfortunately for me I didn't fail fast on this one, I really dragged it out. And that's an important lesson for me to take from this. If something isn't working look at why. If you can't change things to make it work, then seriously consider quitting it and doing something else instead. There is nothing wrong with admitting defeat, failure, changing path etc. Life is too short.
There are so many important positives to take from my PhD time too. I learnt how to manage my time and to self-motivate. I gained more respect for the environment and a love of flowers that will never die. I travelled and made some amazing friends on my journeys in the UK and abroad. I made some very special friends in my department, who will remain friends forever. And through one of these friends I also met my husband. So, I have no regrets that I started it in the first place that's for sure!
The only problem with where I'm at now is that I have about 50,000 words of an unfinished thesis and a whole lot of passion about my subject. I have some thoughts about what I might do with it all, which I'm sure will involve a trip to Devon to see one of my supervisors in the not too distant future. But for now I am going to enjoy the sense of relief and freedom that for the first time in a very, very long time I can enjoy the summer sunshine without the weight and guilt of a thesis sitting on my shoulders.
There are too many messages of thanks to go into this post today but I just want to say a big thank you to all of those wonderful people who have supported, inspired and helped with endless patience and love. Sorry I didn't make it to the end we originally planned but thank you for being with me on the journey.