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My PhD was just as tough on the people close to me, as it was on me

My PhD was just as tough on the people close to me, as it was on me
Jul 08, 2019 1.1k views

Well, this is a long time coming, isn’t it? It has been on my mind for some time, but I haven’t been sure whether I should post it. I decided today that I would, mainly for three reasons:

  1. I have never shied away from posting the difficult parts of my PhD – particularly my posts, ‘When things don’t go to plan’ and finding myself in ‘The Valley of S**t’. I remember contemplating whether to post that, asking for thoughts on Twitter. Many of you said yes, but some felt maybe I shouldn’t. I’m glad I did.
  2. I loved blogging right through my PhD (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and I loved reading all the comments everyone made, offering advice, help, and support.
  3. I hate unfinished things.

So here goes my final, and most personal post (after over three years since I graduated).

I remember as I was getting closer to completing my PhD (although there were times I thought this would be my life forever), I imagined my final blog to be filled with pictures of champagne flowing glasses, lots of laughing and giggling, and some amazing photos of my graduation. I imagined my words filled with excitement, anticipating what lay ahead for me as Dr. Emma Burnett.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

My previous blog post was about my viva on 1st May 2015. My minor corrections were straightforward, and I was able to complete these within the week. They were signed off internally and I was awarded my PhD within a couple weeks. The celebrations I imagined didn’t come because just days after my viva, my husband of 10 years left me, completely out of the blue. You may have noticed in my last blog post that Alana (my daughter) came to meet me after my viva, not my husband – he never turned up. That was painful. Just days later, he was gone and my life as I knew it was no longer.

What is important I think for this blog is to briefly tell you how this relates to my PhD. Now, I’m not for a minute going to say that me doing my PhD was the reason for Chris leaving. However, it absolutely contributed to it, and that is the point I want to make here. There were issues going on which deeply affected Chris and had done for several months before he left. I’m not going to go into these reasons because that isn’t what is important here. I was so focused on my PhD that I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming at all and I had no idea of the issues Chris was going through – none. Crazy really, when people told me afterwards they knew something wasn’t right. I didn’t. I was his wife and I am devastated by that. It took me a long time to admit, but I had become blinded to what was in front of me. I relied on Chris for pretty much everything in relation to the house, the dogs, and the teenage children. He was also running his own busy and demanding business. My main focus was going to work and studying. I regret that more than anything.

My graduation day was painful. I didn’t want to go. I cried most of the morning and through most of the ceremony. It wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. I have just one or two photographs from that day. I was thankful to my parents and my son, Jack for being with me. Alana was away travelling. Chris came too. He arrived on his own and stayed just for the ceremony. He said despite what had happened, he was proud of me and wanted to be there. I think that made things worse. Very few people knew what had happened and I don’t think I did a very good job at pretending to be happy. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of that day anymore.

The days, weeks, and months that followed were hard and I struggled with many things. I often blamed my PhD for the way my life had turned out, and wished I had never done it. I even said I would give it back if I could go back to the way things were. I really meant it. However, I had an amazing family and some really wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me hugely.

Wait… don’t get the hankies out. My final post is a happy one. Chris and I are together, and we have been since 2016. It took us a long time to get to where we are now, and if I’m honest, there were many times I didn’t think we were going to make it. However, our relationship is now at its very best and we are happy, silly, and having lots of fun.

We reflected a lot on many things since then, including how my PhD affected our relationship. I want to leave you with this:

A PhD is tough for the person doing it – of course it is. But it is just as tough (if not more) for the people/person close to you. They sacrifice a lot and pick up so many pieces which often go unnoticed and unappreciated. They also have to listen to all things PhD pretty much all-the-time (how utterly boring for them). In the end, I got what I had been working towards for all those years, but what about Chris? What did he want? Where did that leave him? I didn’t know the answer to these questions because I never asked and they were never discussed.

I would have never, ever made it through my PhD without Chris (and Alana and Jack) and for that, I will be eternally grateful. Knowing what I know now, amongst other things, I wish with all my heart I had made more time for my family while doing it.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by since I have been writing this blog, and to everyone who has taken the time to post comments. For those who are still in the PhD world (or any other world), be kind to yourself and especially those close to you. All the very best of luck!


Emma Burnett (@EmmaBurnettx) is the Associate Dean, International, at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Dundee. This story was published on October 13, 2018, on Emma's blog (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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