Due to unexpected space limitations, this column will not be published.

Summer is an interesting time for a PhD student. Without undergrads, the universities are peaceful and quiet. The manic buzz of deadlines and lectures has relaxed in a collective sigh of relief. Not unlike deep winter, it’s a time of reflection, of preparing for the coming year.

I’m amazed that a year has passed so quickly. It’s a paradox: I have grown intellectually more than I thought was possible, yet it feels like the blink of an eye.

At the beginning, a year dedicated to “just reading” seemed absurd, but now I don’t want it to end! I could easily spend another year or two in this phase, joyfully soaking up new ideas, wandering down intellectual pathways to see where they lead. But like any good archetypal journey, the next phase will begin when I’m not quite ready for it, forcing me to stretch.

Thankfully, I have three excellent guides who continue to astonish me with their warmth, encouragement, and good advice. More and more, I’m seeing the PhD as a kind of apprenticeship: learning the craft of sociology. Nobody expects me to be an expert yet, and my supervisors gently keep me on the right track. At the same time, I feel I’m in complete control of my project. Whenever I ask which direction to take, they turn the question around and ask where I want to go. It’s a wonderfully empowering dynamic.

This kind of empowerment makes the time between meetings more productive, I think. Aligning schedules was difficult this summer, so I was working without a specific plan for more than a month. But I knew that I didn’t need approval for every detail, so I was able to just get on with it. I was also able to take some much-needed space to reflect on the wider purpose of my research: it’s important that I have a clear view of the overall picture before getting caught up in the details of fieldwork.

In the coming months, I’ll be traveling around Scotland, interviewing people who are engaged in different stages of the academic process. I’ll also be tutoring for the first time. I’m looking forward to ending the isolation of my first year and hearing people’s ideas face-to-face, rather than through the medium of books.

However, I must admit, I’m also a bit sad to lose my precious solitary time. I love being around people, but I’ve really enjoyed the freedom that comes in seclusion and silence. Sometimes it’s been frustrating and lonely and confusing, but mostly it’s been an incredible gift, this uncluttered space to build the foundations of my work.

On many levels, this PhD has become a spiritual journey for me. As much as I’m learning about sociology, I’m learning about myself. This year has given me the space to take a critical look at how I work, how I think, how I learn. I’ve discovered new reserves of discipline and stamina, of discernment and intuition. I know these new resources will serve me well throughout my life, and I feel honoured that I can offer them in service to others.

For the first time, all the hard work and struggle and debt finally feels worth it. I know I have created something of value in myself, which no one can take away. Knowing that I now have this resource to share means more to me than all the letters in the world after my name. A year ago I thought that I would be happy at the end of my PhD. I’ve now discovered that I’m very happy in the middle of it.

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