PHD bamboo


When I started my PhD, I was full of enthusiasm, excited by this new opportunity and period of growth. I read a  blog by Jodie Trembath about having a PhD symbol (she originally called it a PhD totem but changed this on the request of several First Nations scholars in the US).

I bought an Asian bamboo plant for my desk at my new university workspace. I loved the way it was so green, fresh and growing strongly – like me – so I decided it was my PhD symbol or PhD bamboo. It grew and grew, rapidly, as did I. When I looked at the PhD bamboo it filled me with enthusiasm.

After a year or so the plant became so tall it was no longer supported by the small green pot. I went away to a conference with a colleague looking after my PhD bamboo. When I returned, my colleague has stuck a post-it note on the pot saying ‘replant me!’. The message was clear! So, I replotted the plant, or rather, removed it from the soil and placed it in a tall vase of water.

The PhD bamboo entered a new growth phase, as did I.  With data collection complete, and moving into the analysis phase, my skills and knowledge continued to grow.

Like many PhD journeys, I went through a more challenging period. My paid employment in the study ended, and I lost access to my workspace. I worked from home, and my PhD bamboo came with me. I felt less supported by my supervisors and became more isolated.

The PhD bamboo became so tall that not even the vase could hold it upright, it began to collapse without adequate support. Another transformation was needed, so I chopped each branch in half, stuffing the vase full.

During this last year, I attempted to resolve the issues with a lack of support from my supervisors with little success. I came to detest my PhD bamboo. No longer fresh and healthy it was struggling, like me. I didn’t like having the PhD bamboo in my study – but I felt I couldn’t part with it given it was my PhD symbol. So, I hid it behind the door in my spare room.  I would forget about the plant until I was vacuuming, then I would curse the “bloody PhD bamboo”. Through a lack of nurturing, some of the PhD bamboo died.

Nearing the end of my candidacy, I moved the PhD bamboo back out into a prominent position and transferred it to a larger vase. No longer constricted, it looked happier and began to grow again. The PhD bamboo had room to move, and soon, so would I.

I submitted my thesis. While the journey is not over, I felt it was time I could finally let go of the PhD bamboo. I didn’t want to destroy it, so instead, I decided to set it free to the world. After toasting it at my celebration party, I put it out on my front fence for a passer-by to adopt into a new home.

I do not miss the bamboo, but I do have some sadness about the journey we went on together. There was unnecessary hardship. Positively, the PhD bamboo and I both grew much and went through several transformations. Thankfully the bamboo has a new life, and so do I.

Author Bio: Fiona Robards is an independent consultant providing strategic planning, policy and resource development to the government and community healthcare sector.