24 March 2021

#RhymeYourResearch: Word by Word

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#RhymeYourResearch is a series of posts by poets who write poetry about science and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. This week, Emer Emily Neenan.

This poem was written near the very end of my PhD, which was submitted at the start of August, 2020. It forms the self-reflection section of my thesis. If you liked it (or if you’re interested in geoscience education), you might enjoy some of the rest of my thesis too; there are other poems, short stories, and various other writings, forming a research epistolary. My thesis can be found here.

-Emer Emily Neenan is a post-doc researcher; geoscience educated, & creative academic writer. Learn more on her website, find her on Twitter. She is currently holed up in Ireland waiting out this pandemic by writing, painting, and “spending time with mo theaglach, my household.”

Word by Word (find a video version here)

How does a research student
trying not to lose the
momentum, precarious
in a scary rush to finish up,
during a global catastrophe,
trying to catch some sleep,
find the time to rhyme a line
about her process?


When I was maybe four years old
I thought about it hard, and told
my mother that one day I’d be
Professor Emer, listen to me!

She said I’d need a PhD.

A winding path; from Physics to Geology,
a half-turn back, Seismology,
then sideways, to where I’m meant to be
a Science Education degree

Begun in the summer of 2016,
That year everything seemed to split
Into before and after, remember it?
Pokémon GO on every phone screen
EU’s crisis of refugees to admit
And Britain and the US going to–
make historically questionable decisions. But,

I started this.
This journey, this learning,
this fire I set burning.
For all or for naught.
At 26, unmarried, childless,
And neurotypical (I thought)
Ready for four years or a while less.

A first paper, intentions,
A wedding and honeymoon,
Opportunities, summer schools
Forgetting, remembering,
Delays and fits and starts and slog,
Tears and laughter, the odd blog,
Finding a place in the Arts & Humanities,
Finding a way to deal with a pregnancy,
Meanwhile I get diagnoses by degrees,
And clutter myself with stress and anxieties, but

I started this
As a positivist, positively passionately restricted
Certain, stiff but brittle, but I learned to stick with this
Discomfort, little by little, the seduction of the dutile,
Constructing a conversation and exploring philosophy–
Turns out I’m a philosopher!
A whole new world of ontological puzzles
I love it.
I defined myself within pragmatism
As I find my self-created baggage isn’t a failing
Ignoring it is
I can bring my whole person to this
And I did.

And I’m a perfectionist, but I know
That flaws are inevitable, in research doubly so
All we can do is note and learn
Go with the flow
And try our best to earn
Wisdom to bring with us where next we go


Here I am.

See, they noticed I was “gifted”
When I was pretty small
They noticed lots about me
But they didn’t notice all
I am
a girl become a woman whose



What is it to be
thirty, third degree,
interrogating, waiting,
third generation, lucky, looking,
weighing downs and ups
and oops and luck?

Getting stuck.

And look, the path between the trees
The seeking weeds, the thawing freeze
That eases very soft and slow
Releases all at once, and no
I will not come this way again
A sharp spring day, a breath of air
A prying disbeliever’s prayer
I cannot come this way again
I walk back home, I raise my pen

or touch the keys


by word


but sometimes at once all too many come flooding too fast to



How does a writer–
Am I a writer?
Who is a writer?
A night or two of panicked queries,
Half-remembered theories,

But listen. This is how it goes.

Everything changes us.
Sometimes a lot.
I don’t know what I am
Till I see what I wrote.


How does an all-or-nothing
young wan
pale and sickly, all go
too-fast, too-slow, bimodal
researcher queer as any folk,
Feminist, fed up of this,
obsessed with the poetry of prose,
now a mammy on top of it,
keep going?

by word.