I’ve spent a lot of the last week on a boat, and it occurred to me, somewhere in the sun, surf and suffering heat, that the analogy that love/life is like a ship does have something to be said for it. But more specifically I think the PhD journey is like a journey by ship: often stormy, often scary, sometimes calm, and always adventurous and exciting (in good and bad ways).

I have been on little tiny boats ten feet long all the way up to thousand foot long cruise ships, and all methods of transport via water have been part of my life since I was born. I grew up on a lake, learned to swim at age 2, learned to sail at age 5, learned to drive a motor boat at age 7. I started cruising when I was 11. By 21, I was out on dive boats regularly, on lakes and rivers and open ocean. The lull of the seas has always attracted me.

So yes, a PhD is much like a journey by boat. A long journey by boat, where you are fairly certain of the destination, but you don’t actually know if you will reach it. Maybe you’ll end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. Maybe you will jump ship at a port along the way and decide to stay there. And maybe you’ll turn back in the first weeks because it just is not for you.

Journeys by sea rarely turn out quite as expected. I’ve run into storms and hurricanes, mechanical failures, intense temperatures and sudden weather changes. The PhD is the same way. You never quite know what will come, and there is always going to be the unexpected. Some days will be wonderfully clear sailing, others will be seas so high you are sure you will flounder.

But as with a boat, the only thing you can do is ride it out. You can choose to get off. You can at times be thrown off, but in the end if you want your PhD, you’ll ride it out no matter how stormy it gets. And you’ll know fear, but don’t ever let that stop you. Don’t ever let fear be the reason you get off the boat. We all fear during our PhDs. Some of us were down right terrified! But don’t let that fear stop you from going on. Let other things stop you. Let life decisions, family, lovers, careers, realisations stop you. But never ever fear. Every sailor knows fear, but if they let it stop them, they’d never get on a ship again. There are a lot of reasons to fear during a PhD. To be scared. But keep going anyways, because that ship will one day reach its destination, and you would much rather be on it then lost along the way.

*Warning: not my best analogy, but the boat has been rocking for three days since I got off it and sailing is on the mind.


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