Dr Evelyn Tsitas started 100 Days to the Doctorate in 2013 with literally 100 days to go before she handed in her doctorate in Creative Writing at RMIT University, investigating the human animal hybrid in science fiction.
She decided to go public with the trials and hopefully, triumphs ahead in her doctoral journey, and the intense pressure-cooker of life with two kids, two pets, and a full time job and part-time teaching load on top of full time doctoral study. It was a wild ride!
Evelyn is an author (Handle With Care) with a background in journalism (more than a decade on News Ltd publications), fiction writing (Winner of the 2008 Scarlet Stiletto Award for Crime Writing) and currently works as a communications strategist at RMIT University. She also blogs about the academic journey, and cultural commentary at Online Opinion and The Thesis Whisperer.
As a blogger, Evelyn puts herself in the story. As the late Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Heartburn) observed, “everything is copy”.
This blog is now called 100 Days to the Doctorate – & Beyond to encompass the reflective nature of the post graduate life.
The evolution of the blog…
Evelyn’s blog explores writing, life and career opportunities after post graduate study. As a writer who uses her own life in her work, this blog is unashamedly a reflection of the psychological state of fiction writing and the precarious nature of being an independent and emerging academic. The blog investigates the post doctoral career challenges and the reality of the juggle and compromises of motherhood, higher education and the energetic dance to ‘have it all’…but perhaps, not all at once!
Evelyn offers hard-won advice for completing a doctorate, and explores writing, life and career opportunities after post graduate study, as well as a little existential introspection – why do a doctorate when academic employment opportunities are rapidly shrinking around the globe? Doesn’t a Creative Writing doctorate by its very nature suck the life and creativity out of a creative writer? How do you fit in full time doctoral study around parenting and a full time – and unrelated – job? To also teach or not to teach as part of the doctoral journey? Will you ever have a social life again?
100 Days to the Doctorate – & Beyond encompasses the reflective nature of the post graduate life. What was it all about, anyway? Was it worth the long years of delayed gratification? What do I do now? Is there a use-by date on my research?
Evelyn knows all too well the questions that plague successful doctoral graduates at this point: the point BEYOND the doctorate. She doesn’t have the answers, but she is blogging her way to finding what they might be….
Beyond the PhD
In the race to finish, we forget that the doctoral journey actually continues after you have graduated. That’s when the clock really starts ticking on the relevance of your research, and the currency of your qualification. If you haven’t got into an academic position, as a sanctioned Early Career Researcher or in a full time, permanent lecturing job, then what? Is it better to plod along in sessional work and keep your nose pressed to the glass windows of the ivory tower – looking in but never really taking part? Or is it time to take your impressive skills elsewhere, and walk away from academia? And while you juggle getting your academic publications in the required journals – what about a literary agent and a publisher for your creative writing project?
As Evelyn also continues on this journey, you can share with her these questions, insights, advice and pathways in 100 Days to the Doctorate & Beyond.
About Evelyn – a narrative
I am an architect’s daughter most at home in the built landscape, not nature. I’m flâneur most comfortable strolling the streets and winding lanes of cities strange and familiar, not bushwalking.
I am, I thought, perhaps oblivious to my surroundings, inhabiting as I do the life of the mind.
And then I moved. And I realized I was wrong. And I understood home was not a building, but the land around me. Where I felt ‘at home’ was the space I shared not just with other people but also with the plants and rivers and animals. I have discovered that just as the body remembers riding a bike, there is also a memory of place – of home – that resides in our bodies.
It was a seismic shift and a relatively small one. When my marriage ended, I moved back to familiar territory, a suburb close to where I grew up and to my family, coming back to the safety of home if you like with the young in tow. We are, like the animals we are, creatures of habit, drawn back to familiarity and the safety of home.
And while I didn’t shift continents or even cities, seeing the once familiar landscape around me again suddenly brought back with it floods of memories for who I once was. I was not prepared for this, or the ways in which the landscape would have such an impact.
The place we inhabit – the emotional topography of our surroundings – is more than incidental. It leaves a lasting impact on how we see the world. Some things about our planet seem to sink into our soul, in subtle ways we are not aware of.
On a micro level, I would like to share my experiences of finding ‘home’, and feeling ‘at home’ in the landscape. As I tease out the memories, I realize that the environment around me has had more of an impact than I have given it credit.
I went to England as a baby with my parents and returned at seven on a ship. That line in the horizon between water and sky is one I have searched out ever since so familiar it became. And I would count the years I had been in Australia against the ones of my ‘home’, now gone, until the England of my memories receded like that speck of land as the ship pulled out of port, until any trace of my accent had broadened and flattened, until I could no longer imagine even the touch of snow on my skin, the tangle of mittens, the frost etched deep on the car window. England was the past. I was Australian.
Though I have enduring nightmares of immense railway stations and railway tracks, which as an adult returning ‘home’ I now know were Paddington and Victoria Stations, it is the landscape that I sunk beneath my skin, the environment, the earth, the weather. The very British flowers – the bright harsh pansies, the green, green grass, along with the winter snow and the frost and the iced up lake near our house, all were elusive on the other side of the world.
I make sense of a place by drawing it. I travel everywhere with sketch books and pens and ink and watercolors and my travelling companions have learnt to wander off or take a book and let me draw. When I returned to England as an adult, it was the smell of the grass as I sat and sketched that was the green of my childhood remembered. I was six again, as if sucked into a time vortex. As if down a rabbit hole, on the other side of the world, I was ‘home’.
I have returned many times to England as an adult, and each time it is profoundly familiar and not at all ‘home’ in any way. The older I get, the less my longing for this home, until I simply see the urban decay, the over crowding, the smallness of it all. There I will be, in England, longing to be at the other end of the world, longing for ‘home’, for Australia. For the sunshine and the blue skies and the endless spaces. Even for the parched brown grass of summer rather than the endless green. For the wild coastline and sprawling beaches, and even for the heart of the continent, where I have visited so rarely for the lasting impact it has made on me. I can only imagine how changed the early white settlers became after experiencing the interior.
That I feel ‘at home’ in England is perhaps not strange given my childhood there. But why did I feel like I ‘came home’ the first time I went to Greece, only four years ago? For many reasons my family never returned when I was growing up in Australia, and my father only started going back regularly less than 10 years ago himself. Yet the first time he returned, with a mass of photos of the family village in remote northern Greece, my heart lurched and my hand stretched out at one – a crumbled stone fence, a thick wooded copse, dappled light. “Where is that? That seems – so familiar” I blurted out.
My father told me it was a stone wall built by his grandfather. My great grandfather. Out of all those photos, it was the one that had some link between the land and my blood that spoke to me, as it did when I visited for myself. For the first time, as a child of migrants, I was finally in a place that I could call ‘home’ – a place where my father ran around as a child, the trees he climbed, the mountains he scoured, the branches of the chestnut trees he swung on and the chestnut pits my yaiyai dug. Here was the house my great-grandparents built, and at night, as the wolves howled from the mountains that loomed large in front of us, I could feel the pull of something stronger than I had experienced in Australia; home, a connection to the land.
I realize I am very lucky in being able to return somewhere and have this claim to a place when so many other European migrants cannot. My mother for instance is a displaced person, and the country she was born in, the one she grew up in and the one her family called home are all different, courtesy of the second world war. So many people cannot go home because of the maps that have been drawn – the borders to these places disputed and erased, names now only in history books. There is nowhere for my mother to return that is ‘home’. Unlike my father, who knows every twist and turn of the old monastery near the village, where he and the other children would play and scour the mulberry tree for fruit and drink rancid oil from the lamps in starving desperation during the harshest years of the war.
My mother’s mother tells me how she collected amber on the beaches around Riga when she was a girl, and I have a necklace made from her findings. I wear a lot of amber as it is a symbolic link to a home I will never know, a past lost whose memories are preserved for me only in stories and photos, and a deep longing I grew up listening to second hand, for birdsong and trees never to be seen or heard again.
We long for the earth under us to have some claim on our past. Not for nothing do we say ‘putting down roots’. We are part of the planet’s ecosystem, and like the trees around us, we are native to a place no matter how far the seeds blow us in the winds of migration. Social, political, financial, career – these are the currents in which we drift around the globe, of our making and desire or not.
Maybe home is where the heart is. Home is the place around us, the land beneath us. Can we ever feel completely at home if we are not in our familiar space? We can marry into homes, be cuckoos in the forest and lakes we have settled into, but no matter how much we adapt, there will always be that pull and longing – or at least that overwhelming nostalgia and familiarity – when we return (if we can) one last time to ‘home’.