A scholarship application and the construction of self

I just finished an application for a scholarship to do my Ph.D. in Freiburg starting next year. So yes, after some eight months out there in the world I clearly felt I like the thought of going back to science a lot. I’m actually really excited about it, because the project tackles some philosophical and practical questions at the same time, and is set up in a very multiple methods kind of way, ranging from physiological measurements to open („qualitative“) interviews, all of which suits me perfectly. The title still sounds quite technical though, in English it would be something like this: „Importance of Cognitive and Psychophysiological Processes for the Effectiveness of Exposure Therapy in Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder“.

But this just for background, what want I want to write about here is the experience I had writing the application, because I feel it illustrates and supports constructivist concepts of a „narrative self“ which I like a lot.

So, the work was going well, given that I had been removed from the academic world for so long it was surprisingly easy to compose something like a scientific text again for the ten-page exposé. I even had profoundly happy moments doing that sitting in a beach restaurant with internet access in Zanzibar and did not regret to spend that time outside of the water at all. So I had plenty of time for the last step — a simple one-page motivational letter, detailing why I want to get a Ph.D., what motivation is behind my activism, and why I want to be in that specific organization.

Now that should be easy enough, done something like that many times, but for some reason I took the invitation to sum up the core themes of my life in a few sentences. After all, a Ph.D. is a serious time commitment for some crucial years in life. And that proved quite challenging. Which maybe has something to do with my life situation right now — my „big story“ for this year is basically „new experiences, step-by-step decisions, follow your guts“ (even though I think I did a lot of planning ahead compared to other „world travelers“ which I still don’t really see myself as). And it has also been pretty clear for me from the start that I want something more solid and stable to grow out of this.

Which it has, and that’s maybe the thing: my task was to make explicit this evolved feeling which actually led me to take the decision to go back to Freiburg for a Ph.D.. And thus to collect together the strands of sometimes random and isolated experiences of this year. It took me some writing, going away from it for some days, rewriting, and so on (and some feedback from friends and family what doesn’t sound like it makes a lot of sense yet, or what sounds too abstract) to come to a story that I feel at home in. And now the fascinating discovery is: having written this story feels astonishingly good, and has taken on a meaning for me way beyond the original purpose. I feel how it energizes me for the tasks which lie ahead in the next months, and helps to focus my thoughts and reflexions and guide my decisions.

Bottom line: I think we should all write or tell about our „big life story“ every now and then. But we certainly should also have the times of creative chaos in between, where this life story can change, so it doesn’t turn from support and guidance into prison.

Datum: Freitag, 2. September 2011 12:04
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3 Kommentare

  1. 1

    Finde es sehr berührend, wie dich die bevorstehende Aufgabe mit Kopf und Herz ergreift, so dass dir neue Energie zufließt. Der Appell, sich auf die Suche nach einem Lebensthema zu machen, ist bei mir angekommen. Ganz sicher ist auch ein Wechsel zwischen Festlegung/Gewöhnung und Offenheit/„Chaos“ förderlich für Entwicklung/Findung. Danke für den Gedankenanstoß!

  2. 2

    That was beautifully enlightening Christoph!  I would love to write my life story soon!  Sometimes the most challenging task is to write about yourself, because you know exactly when you are lying and/or ‚filling it up‘ versus when you hit the nail on the head with truth.  You do feel it in your gut as you write.  Sometimes you have to dig through many layers of drafts and words to get to it :)

  3. 3

    Das gibt dem Wort Motivationsschreiben ne neue Bedeutung ;). Weiß leider nicht mehr wer s gesagt hat, aber das Zitat trifft dein Erlebtes gut: „Führe ein Tagebuch, eines Tages wird es dich führen.“  Außerdem ist das alles ja nochmal eine Bestätigung für dein Überzeugung, dass der Beobachter immer ins Geschehen eingreift  ;).