On October 1st 2018, I became a PhD research student in my fifties, returning to the university from which I graduated with a Masters the previous year. What an emotional year it was involving concentrated periods spent working on two application stages with my supervisor, followed by a hiatus of around three months while we waited for news of funding. Although still freelancing in marketing, the first day of my PhD life was more than just a symbolic point of departure from the past. Everyone tells me I’m brave and many probably think I’m daft!
The photograph is of an old gate on one of the walks in the area. The day before, the rope secure and rough in my hand, I pulled the loop over the gate post, pushing against the weight of the gate. This walk is called Minnie Gemmell’s as it takes you by a ruined cottage in which Minnie had lived at one time, so folklore has it. The views on the walk are often open across fields over to the Ayrshire coast in the west, reflecting the height of the village and the hill crested at one time with an iron age fort which gives its name to the area. At other sections of the walk, with views restricted by trees, you are encouraged to view points of interest which are closer to your feet and hands – silver gleam of birch bark, knotted roots of trees under your boots, the wind riffling the leaves, the crozier ferns, rustling grasses, lichened drystone walls, paths worn by animals, iridescent beetles, friendly dogs.
Now, three months into the three years of study, I’ve found the research path much like the Minnie Gemmell’s walk. Most of the time, the viewpoint is tightly focused on papers and chapters on specific areas to be considered and points to be weighed. When the flask is brought out and coffee poured, it’s time to take a breath and look around at the bigger picture. It’s such a privilege to have this opportunity and especially so at this stage in my life. The rope is lifted, the gate has swung free. Even if the path curves out of sight, it’s time to step through the gate and move on.