Haiku your way to a PhD?

Sometimes I get sent posts that are just too charmingly odd to resist. This one is by Paula Loveday of the University of the Sunshine Coast. PhD candidate and owner of Peace and Prosperity success coaching. This is a post about… well, Paula can explain!

Let me begin by saying I’m not a poet. And when I commenced my PhD a year ago I certainly didn’t set out to document my PhD journey using an ancient Japanese form of poetry known as haiku. And yet, here I am, 15 months in, confirmed and about to analyse the data from my experiments and I have a collection of 20 haikus that do in fact describe the journey thus far. Well, as much as one can describe such a journey within the strictures of a 5/7/5 syllable poem.

The haiku obsession began early last year. I found myself in a research lab full of very fancy computer equipment and surrounded by very serious technology nerds (that’s a compliment by the way). I’m decades older than most of them, my background is business and although my first computer was an Apple Mac (you know the very first one, the actual original Mac), I’m certainly not up with all their modern kit. So, what to do, how to make my mark? For some reason, my haiku habit was the answer.

Our lab has wall-talkers, those walls that you are allowed to write on, in fact encouraged to write on. And so, first thing one morning, when no-one was there I wrote my first haiku on the wall. I felt rebellious, naughty and very young. It was an intoxicating feeling and I wanted more. I wrote a few more. I didn’t sign them, didn’t say they were mine and whilst there was speculation about the haiku ‘phantom’; interestingly no-one thought it was me.

Here is a haiku one of my colleagues wrote:

Haikus everywhere
Who is the phantom writer?
Please reveal yourself

Eventually I came clean and I think that maybe they started to see me in a different light.

Since then I have continued with my haikus – about one a month, sometimes more frequently if I am feeling particularly elated, or despairing. Why haiku? Well I think that is obvious – when one is in the process of writing 80,000 words there is hardly time for anything more than 17 extra syllables. It’s a way of expressing what is going on, quickly, succinctly. A way of capturing the ups and downs of this process/journey/self-inflicted torture/self-expressed delight.

Something I now know about the PhD is that we all have something that makes it possible for us to actually succeed. For me I am highly organised, pretty clever, determined and I have lots of time and space in my life to devote to my research. And we all have something that makes it possible for us to give up in utter frustration. For me that is statistics, the bureaucracy fondly known as a university and the fact that my research is in an area so distant from all my previous study. But the thing we have in common as Higher Degree by Research students is that we all have a ‘something’ that will ensure success and a ‘something’ that if we don’t overcome it will ensure failure.

One last thing before you read my haikus. I remember being mystified by syllables in primary school. I never quite got it. I kept getting it confused with sounding out words. I realised just how poor I was at it when, many years later, I was teaching grade one myself, and I was showing the children how to count the syllables by clapping out their names. We’d clapped around the whole circle of children when my teacher aide gently whispered in my ear “do you know you’re teaching them the wrong thing?”

For those of you like me who have bit of syllable-dyslexia, there are four syllables in my name: (Pau+la) and (Love+day). If you were sounding my name you would say (P+au+la) and (L-o-ve-d-ay). Having said that, I’m still never quite sure I have the syllables right and so, after I have completed a haiku I send it in a text to my 20 year-old daughter for her to check


PhDs are great
Note to self – get PhD
Eighty thousand words…


Aargh! Where to begin?
Thoughts are many – words are few
Chapter one, word one…


New skills to apply
Argument and rhetoric
Why, but why, but why?


Super-duper fun
Naught but PhD pleasure
Ah! sweet denial


Mid sem? Not for me
Thoughts are 24/7
Can’t switch off – dare not!


Another haiku?
Seventeen syllables more?
No way, No how, No!


Twenty thousand words.
Confirmation document.
Submitted. At last!


Presentation – done.
I’m through. Confirmed. It’s over.
Relief comes in waves.

It’s been great to mark these milestones with a haiku. It’s so easy to just move on to the next thing. Actually stopping to acknowledge the journey makes it richer.


Reviewer’s comments
Seventeen responses down,
Thirty-three to go!


Such differing views –
Supervisors’, reviewers’
But what do I know?


Many distractions
An infinite TO DO list
Focus, focus now.

One time I tried to share my distraction with the rest of the lab. I cleaned all the old haikus off the board and put a new one up:


Avoid your research
Procrastinate with haiku
Walls are clean. Create!

No responses. It seems like I was the only one not working. So, back to it:


Build subject numbers
Get message out – media
Too famous to think 🙂


Delete this, add that
Hoop jumper extraordinaire
Resistance takes time


Ethics – low risk app
Jump the hurdles, jump again
Through! (with small changes)


Survey designing,
Interfacing web pages,
For pilot testing


Some days I feel I’m
Inadequate to the task
Perhaps, perhaps not.


Experiment one
Launched with great trepidation.
Participate? Please!


First study is closed,
One hundred and forty-one!
Such a great response


Fifty-five per cent
Fine for online follow-up
Results? Fingers crossed.

My haikus represent the first year and a bit of this amazing PhD journey and I hope they might inspire you to keep some sort of sanity-generating, creative process going alongside this very intellectual endeavour.

Thanks Paula! What about you? Do you Haiku? Love to read some in the comments 🙂

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44 thoughts on “Haiku your way to a PhD?

    • Paula Loveday says:

      Hi ajpeee, Thanks for your comment, what an interesting PhD journey you had. Very interesting to follow your link, Warm wishes Paula

  1. Karen says:

    Ah Paula I love this. Having a tough week and found getting it down in haiku a small relief. Thank you. Hopefully if I write another next week it will be more upbeat.

    Setbacks devour me
    Work, home, life: pushing uphill
    So sick of my doubts

    • Nicole Colter says:


      Those are some powerful words. You clearly have a knack for this! I hope your next week one will be more upbeat but you may find you need to get more of the “junk” out before there is room inside for upbeat. And if this gave you relief, it could be therapeutic to use it as a tool to evict the negative stuff.

    • Paula Loveday says:

      Hi Karen, Thanks for your reply and haiku. I agree with what Nicole says and hope you are feeling better this week. In my most down times I go to the Thesis Whisperer site. It’s so useful to know we are not alone in this journey. Warm wishes Paula

  2. Kim of Glover Gardens says:

    Why haiku, says you?
    I’m asking the question, too.
    Just because we do!

    – or –

    The five-seven-five –
    it’s my “hey there, I’m alive!”
    Why do you haiku?

    I guess you can tell that I love haiku, and am inspired by your post here, in particular these sentences: “It’s a way of expressing what is going on, quickly, succinctly. A way of capturing the ups and downs of this process/journey/self-inflicted torture/self-expressed delight.”

    Stop by Glover Gardens sometime and drink in my haiku: https://glovergardens.com/tag/haiku/

  3. Amie says:

    I too, have randomly turned to Haiku to express the PhD journey. Allow me to share a few of my favourites.

    The sun is shining
    I am finishing a draft
    The curtains are closed.

    Drifts and piles of white
    Layer by layer they grow
    Papers on my desk.

    I should be working
    This is almost the same thing
    I hate you Pinterest.

    • Paula Loveday says:

      hi Aime, I love these – thank you. Your third one really resonates – substitute Pinterest for one of the many things I find to distract myself. Warm wishes Paula

  4. vasilisaphd says:

    Art and creativity help to release stress, especially in our highly-intelectually-demanding PhD journey. Combining it with writing process even will be useful to overcome writer’s block and bring some playfulness! Writing blog is also great.
    I myself am writing in small channell in telegram. Cause blog for me seems more serious and I still have luck of confidence in writing. Therefore small as Twitter posts (as well as haiku poems) texts are big help for me to start to write.
    You can check my channel here: https://t.me/vasilisaphd

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