To anyone who has ever supported a research student,
When someone you love tells you that they have decided to do a masters or doctorate, they are indirectly asking you to provide moral support through at least a year (maybe three, or four, or five) of intellectually challenging, emotionally fraught, financially draining HARD WORK.
Yet at the same time, they are also asking you to be excited for them: for the contributions they will make to knowledge and for the opportunities that their research will create.
It’s a lot for them to take on, but at the same time, it’s a lot for you to grapple with too.
When I was a postgrad research student a few years ago, my spouse, friends, and family put up with my variable moods, crazy schedule, and perpetual poverty. I’m not sure I really thanked them properly. So this letter is a message of thanks to them and, in fact, to everyone who has ever loved and supported a postgrad research student.
Thank you for all you do to enable us to conduct our research and write our theses. We know that you take on more than your share of household chores sometimes. You distract the kids, and turn down the TV, and keep us caffeinated. Sometimes you even cross oceans to be with us, or tolerate great distances between us. These sacrifices, both large and small, not only enable our research; they also send the very reassuring message that you support us in our mission. That is a great comfort.
Thank you for showing an interest when we drone on and on about the tiny niche field in which we work. We are aware that it is, realistically, not that interesting to outsiders. It probably seems obscure. It probably seems limited. It might even seem crazy for us to devote so much attention to this very specialised thing. So thank you for listening, and a bonus thanks for whatever bits of the thesis you’ve managed to read or proofread without nodding off.
Thank you for encouraging us to take breaks sometimes: to go out for a walk, or to have a chat, or to grab a bite to eat. We need that. And thank you for being so understanding when we turn down those invitations. Sometimes this job gets overwhelming, and we need to prioritise it. We’re not trying to reject you. Really.
Thank you for sharing our emotional highs: for celebrating with us when we get a scholarship, or make a discovery, or finish a chapter. Thank you also for nurturing us through our emotional lows. We may burst into tears, or chuck all the papers off our desks, or snap at you. We’re sorry. Thank you for tolerating our moodiness.
Above all, thank you for supporting our research even if you don’t understand it. Because truthfully, this is a time of uncertainty for us, and for you by extension. We don’t necessarily know what this period of study and research will mean for our careers. We don’t necessarily know whether our findings will make a difference. We don’t necessarily know where we’ll end up after graduation.
We need to figure all that out. And when you support us in our research journey, what you are really saying is: I trust you to figure it out. So thank you for your faith in us. We need it, and we appreciate it.
This won’t be forever. The day will come when the research is done, and the thesis is written. Things will go back to normal. When that day comes, please know that although there is only one person’s name on the diploma, there are many people deserving of credit.
There are a lot of wonderful things to discover during a masters or doctorate, but there’s none more powerful than witnessing the depths of your love and support.
So once again, thank you.
Your postgrad loved ones.