PhD = Procrastination + hallucination + Dissertation

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“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“PhD = Procrastination + hallucination + Dissertation.” Or so it said on a handout I received from the LSHTM on my first day of orientation back in autumn of 2012. While this is likely true, I’m pleased to say that, thus far, I haven’t experienced auditory or visual hallucinations, let alone any other positive symptoms of schizophrenia. However, the dissertation process, if not the programme evaluation alone, may well lead to some form of psychosis. Fieldwork is a definite contributor. Your study works just fine in theory but then in evaluating the practice, you run into a plethora of snafus. Fortunately, the peripheral, non-work aspects of the week were simply fantastic… or rather the non-work aspect was fantastic. Unfortunately, there weren’t many to be had. Quality of the company aside, there was exactly one, and it came early on.

Coming into the office on Monday was like Christmas morning. The project PI was in town for the week, and any and all technical questions I had about the programme, my project, etc., were answered, raining from the sky like presents (not literally, of course, though I like to entertain the thought of that actually happening), not to mention I received my first real external guidance on the development of my research questions. The joy and rapture ended there. That was it for the affirmative aspect of my week. From a research perspective, I dare say that the rest of it was somewhat nightmare-ish. At least, for the sake of dramatic emphasis, I prefer to think it was. I’m prone to hyperbole.

Despite the well-designed maximum variation-based sampling methods employed, the initial pilot data left something to be desired. Much of the data we had relied on for the sample (as were sent to us from the clinics) was entirely wrong, diagnostically and otherwise. Clearly, there were significant pitfalls in our current system, and likely in more than one place, driven by a lack of understanding of community programme workers’ responsibilities, of proper oversight and of cross-referencing along the way. For our team, it meant returning to the proverbial and much abhorred “drawing board” for major revision of the programme’s implementation structure and active monitoring system for community mental health services. I reminded myself that such is the nature of research, but nonetheless, I was still disheartened. Wherever you go and whatever the project, it’s hard to drive the point home at every level of project management and to create a thoroughly integrated system. People always stray, through misunderstanding or cutting corners, and it destroys the entire process.

I often find myself thinking about how, as a team, in all of our self-perceived, collective wisdom, we overlooked the possibility of these issues. We had erred in making assumptions that certain components would work seamlessly without considering these issues that became troublesome. But, as Alexander Pope reminds us, “to err is human.” We should never be too certain of our own wisdom because inevitably, both the strongest and the wisest always fall. However, it is those who keep moving (and in our case, make the necessary revisions), that demonstrate veritable strength and wisdom in the face of the adversity that must inevitably come.

It is together with this strength, along with a healthy amount of procrastination, that I will continue my quest in empirical research and “dissertate,” never to forget that my greatest achievements will, indubitably, arise from my greatest errors.

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