Haiku your way to a PhD?


Let me begin by saying I’m not a poet. And when I commenced my PhD a year ago I certainly didn’t set out to document my PhD journey using an ancient Japanese form of poetry known as haiku. And yet, here I am, 15 months in, confirmed and about to analyse the data from my experiments and I have a collection of 20 haikus that do in fact describe the journey thus far. Well, as much as one can describe such a journey within the strictures of a 5/7/5 syllable poem.

The haiku obsession began early last year. I found myself in a research lab full of very fancy computer equipment and surrounded by very serious technology nerds (that’s a compliment by the way). I’m decades older than most of them, my background is business and although my first computer was an Apple Mac (you know the very first one, the actual original Mac), I’m certainly not up with all their modern kit. So, what to do, how to make my mark? For some reason, my haiku habit was the answer.

Our lab has wall-talkers, those walls that you are allowed to write on, in fact encouraged to write on. And so, first thing one morning, when no-one was there I wrote my first haiku on the wall. I felt rebellious, naughty and very young. It was an intoxicating feeling and I wanted more. I wrote a few more. I didn’t sign them, didn’t say they were mine and whilst there was speculation about the haiku ‘phantom’; interestingly no-one thought it was me.

Here is a haiku one of my colleagues wrote:

Haikus everywhere
Who is the phantom writer?
Please reveal yourself

Eventually I came clean and I think that maybe they started to see me in a different light.

Since then I have continued with my haikus – about one a month, sometimes more frequently if I am feeling particularly elated, or despairing. Why haiku? Well I think that is obvious – when one is in the process of writing 80,000 words there is hardly time for anything more than 17 extra syllables. It’s a way of expressing what is going on, quickly, succinctly. A way of capturing the ups and downs of this process/journey/self-inflicted torture/self-expressed delight.

Something I now know about the PhD is that we all have something that makes it possible for us to actually succeed. For me I am highly organised, pretty clever, determined and I have lots of time and space in my life to devote to my research. And we all have something that makes it possible for us to give up in utter frustration. For me that is statistics, the bureaucracy fondly known as a university and the fact that my research is in an area so distant from all my previous study. But the thing we have in common as Higher Degree by Research students is that we all have a ‘something’ that will ensure success and a ‘something’ that if we don’t overcome it will ensure failure.

One last thing before you read my haikus. I remember being mystified by syllables in primary school. I never quite got it. I kept getting it confused with sounding out words. I realised just how poor I was at it when, many years later, I was teaching grade one myself, and I was showing the children how to count the syllables by clapping out their names. We’d clapped around the whole circle of children when my teacher aide gently whispered in my ear “do you know you’re teaching them the wrong thing?”

For those of you like me who have bit of syllable-dyslexia, there are four syllables in my name: (Pau+la) and (Love+day). If you were sounding my name you would say (P+au+la) and (L-o-ve-d-ay). Having said that, I’m still never quite sure I have the syllables right and so, after I have completed a haiku I send it in a text to my 20 year-old daughter for her to check


PhDs are great
Note to self – get PhD
Eighty thousand words…


Aargh! Where to begin?
Thoughts are many – words are few
Chapter one, word one…


New skills to apply
Argument and rhetoric
Why, but why, but why?


Super-duper fun
Naught but PhD pleasure
Ah! sweet denial


Mid sem? Not for me
Thoughts are 24/7
Can’t switch off – dare not!


Another haiku?
Seventeen syllables more?
No way, No how, No!


Twenty thousand words.
Confirmation document.
Submitted. At last!


Presentation – done.
I’m through. Confirmed. It’s over.
Relief comes in waves.

It’s been great to mark these milestones with a haiku. It’s so easy to just move on to the next thing. Actually stopping to acknowledge the journey makes it richer.


Reviewer’s comments
Seventeen responses down,
Thirty-three to go!


Such differing views –
Supervisors’, reviewers’
But what do I know?


Many distractions
An infinite TO DO list
Focus, focus now.

One time I tried to share my distraction with the rest of the lab. I cleaned all the old haikus off the board and put a new one up:


Avoid your research
Procrastinate with haiku
Walls are clean. Create!

No responses. It seems like I was the only one not working. So, back to it:


Build subject numbers
Get message out – media
Too famous to think ????


Delete this, add that
Hoop jumper extraordinaire
Resistance takes time


Ethics – low risk app
Jump the hurdles, jump again
Through! (with small changes)


Survey designing,
Interfacing web pages,
For pilot testing


Some days I feel I’m
Inadequate to the task
Perhaps, perhaps not.


Experiment one
Launched with great trepidation.
Participate? Please!


First study is closed,
One hundred and forty-one!
Such a great response


Fifty-five per cent
Fine for online follow-up
Results? Fingers crossed.

My haikus represent the first year and a bit of this amazing PhD journey and I hope they might inspire you to keep some sort of sanity-generating, creative process going alongside this very intellectual endeavour.

Author Bio: Paula Loveday is a  PhD candidates and ownder of Peace and Prosperity success coaching.