poem about the challenges of writing a PhD thesis, to share with your students!

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas skutnabb-kangas at VIP.CYBERCITY.DK
Tue May 23 10:14:51 UTC 2000

Dear friends
we had a PhD course in May where one of the participants, Bente Bakmand, from our university, started her presentation of her thesis with the poem below. i thought it was so wonderful that I wanted to share it with others. Bente had no objections (and if anybody wants to publish it, that would be OK too - just contact Bente, address below). It is below in text form. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did - it certainly shows that the doubts about oneself are universal, regardless of how brilliant one is - and should also make us oldies reflect on how to support people more.

Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Dr Robert Phillipson
HOME: Trønninge Mose 3, DK-4420 Regstrup, Denmark, 
phone 45-59-26 44 12, email <skutnabb-kangas at vip.cybercity.dk>.
WORK: Roskilde University, Dept of Languages and Culture, 3.2.4., 
P.O.Box 260, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark, phone 45-46-74 27 40, 
fax  45-46-74 30 61, emails <tovesk at ruc.dk>; <robert at ruc.dk>; 
home pages <http://babel.ruc.dk/~tovesku/>; <http://babel.ruc.dk/~robert/>

Before it all collapses: A look into one phase of a PhD-process
Bente Bakmand

Sitting at the foot of a mountain
a charmless one
massive, impossible to see through
high like heaven, and steep as a fortress
slippery like ice and full of pitfalls
not possible to climb

But I have to cross
I have said it
it is expected from me

No-one knows how high it is, how slippery, how steep 
they think I am standing there, on top
looking right into the future
because I'm so good at telling about the view
as if  I already knew it 
about hardships and dark phases 
as if they were things of the past
as if  I were well on my way 

But I have not even started
just been warming up a little
I lack the most basic prerequisites
the right shoes, the rucksack, the whole equipment
the right attitude

Maybe I could do without?
Find a shortcut
fool them all
supervisor, committee, colleagues
copy, paste, take over a very long bibliography 
and mix together an appropriate set of notes

Or... what if there IS a path anyway?
Suppose this mountain is not as slippery as I believe
suppose I am on my way
could they be alright, my shoes
if only I polish them a little
what if the equipment need not be that fancy after all
a couple of modifications, a few additions
a deep breath, one last effort
and I will be there???

I could of course also just walk off 
let mountains be mountains and rest in peace
if only I could be sure
that I would find peace then
and find the right niche for myself 
in an utterly different place
far away from this world.

Bente Bakmand is a doctoral student at the University of Roskilde, Department of Languages and Cultures (bakmand at babel.ruc.dk), and is expecting to finish her thesis on Language Planning and Foreign Language Teaching in Denmark and France this summer (2000). This poem was written in October 1999.

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