Hello! For those of you who follow me – apologies for the lack of posts over these last few weeks. I’ve just returned from a month in beautiful Bali.It felt important at this point in my PhD to take some solid time out to recuperate a bit before launching into year two. I’ve returned feeling enthusiastic and excited – who knows how long that will last, but for now it is feeling fantastic to be home and back to work. The importance of taking time off for ourselves is so underrated and undervalued – but more on that in a future post 😉
But here I am, beginning my second year – and it seems quite bizarre! For those moving into their second year this time is usually spent preparing for confirmation (or transfer/upgrade). The all important milestone between first and second year.
I thankfully managed to take my confirmation exam in August, hence the one month getaway to celebrate and reward myself! I’d heard multiple nightmare stories about this particular time of year and knew that confirmation was a big thing to be doing. However despite that, I can honestly say I found the experience incredibly useful and rewarding. Dare I say it – I actually really enjoyed the entire process.
From what I hear, if people are honest about their experiences, this is not usually how it goes. It got me thinking about why it might have been different for me and whether I could help anyone else preparing for confirmation. So here are my thoughts…
Planning and preparing to prepare
This one is perhaps super obvious. Have a plan. Sit down and work out exactly what is required of you. How many words in your confirmation report, what sections are there, what is it you need to say? Then your draft chapters, what do they accept? Is there a minimum/maximum word or page limit? Could you submit that draft paper in place of a chapter?
Work out exactly what it is you need to do and then break it down into the smallest possible chunks. Then look at your time scale and work out how long it is going to take you to get it done, realistically.
I got myself a plan together and printed out a calendar to keep track of things. I also at this point reminded myself that I had done enough to pass a confirmation – like most people. It is incredibly unusual to fail. And if you do – you get a second shot. If we’re thinking worse case scenarios! It was helpful for me to use all the energy I would have normally spent worrying and stressing on actually getting the writing done.
Once you have your plan, be flexible with it. Now I know that probably sounds like it defeats the entire purpose of having a plan, but hear me out. I’ve worked alongside someone great this year who has helped me organise my time, and I’ve really come to value the importance of having a solid plan, but also incorporating some room for flexibility. Think you’ll get it done in four days? Allow five or six. You can get that chapter done in two weeks at a push? Why not just say two and a half and make things easier and ultimately less stressful for yourself? That migraine is going to come when it wants to. Your car is going to breakdown when it does. Things happen. We can’t predict them, but it’s always helpful to have some breathing room.
I found that I was an expert at forgetting I had signed up for things. So when the four days of helping at a conference rolled around, and then three days of working at graduations, I was a little stressed, but I knew I had the room and space to ease off if I needed to. The great thing about these plans, is that if you DO get it done in the four days or the two weeks, you either have some extra time to work on things OR you get to spend that time being kind to yourself and having a break.
Be ruthless with your committments
If you have signed up for something and it looks like you might have over committed, do whatever you can to reduce and simplify your schedule until it feels like you have some room to breathe. Explain your situation if you need to cancel things and promise to reschedule. Sometimes we just have to do this, we are all guilty of thinking we are capable of more than we are – it’s great to have those aspirations of ourselves, but sometimes something has to give. Let it be your schedule, not your health.
I found myself cancelling some odd babysitting jobs in favour of getting extra sleep, and rearranging meetings so that I could be at my desk during my most productive hours. I also made sure to tell those closest to me that I might not be overly socialable during preparations and those that mattered totally understood.
Rally the troops
Talking of those closest to you – get your support system in place. Confirmation IS challenging, that is the whole point of it – for you to show people you’re made of strong stuff. But it doesn’t have to be horrendous. Tell those around you what you are preparing for. Have people who you can rant and rave to about whats happening if you need to, have people who know absolutely nothing about what a confirmation entails and let them completely take your mind off things.
Personally, I found it most useful to talk about the confirmation away from those I work alongside. Yes – I updated people in my office and chatted to a couple of colleagues. But I saved the rest for those who were removed from the situation, it helped me gain distance. It is so very easy to be around people who enable a stressed mindset, and enable dwelling in difficulties rather than being proactive and helpful. I had a couple of friends, one who has completed her PhD and I could discuss the actual process with, but who wasn’t stressed herself (helpful!!). Another friend was there for support, encouragement and cheerleading – which is always nice to have. It was also wise for me to have someone who could keep an eye on me so to speak – in terms of not overdoing things and ensuring I was approaching things in a balanced way. Those that care for you will have no problems doing this.
In a similar vein to my previous post, when things are super stressful and you have too much to do, take the pressure off. This is so much more attainable when you have that flexible plan, knowing that you have the time and space to take a day off and just do something else is really beneficial.
For me, it was useful to be able to take the time off and do something that would sustain me for the next leg of writing and preparing. There were times when I was tempted to ramp up the hours and work overtime, but I didn’t. And things still got done. I personally believe it was because I point blank refused to work evenings or weekends (and still do) that meant I was able to work at a pretty solid pace for about three months.
This is a difficult one, but I think something that is so easy to forget. Trust that what you are working on will get done. Reflect on times when things haven’t got done – is there a time? With a plan, flexibility and self-care it will happen.
I struggled with this one initially, but once I had my plan in place (and kept updating it as neccessary) I was able to acknowledge those anxious, stressful thoughts and simply say thanks for looking out for me, but I’ve got this.
The number one thing that I believe helped me enjoy the confirmation process?
I absolutely, vehemently refused for the process of confirmation to be a stressful experience. I did not want it to be, and it wasn’t. From the moment the date of my viva was in the diary, I had my couple of days of panic and then I got to work.
When it comes to the crunch, I signed up for a PhD because I thought it would be fun, I thought it would be something I would enjoy. I therefore refuse for any part of the PhD to be stressful or to make me unhappy – what would be the point? Of course I have a very long way to go, but this helped me immensely. Whenever I found myself getting stressed I removed myself from the situation. I reminded myself that I was choosing to do this, and I had done so because research and studying is enjoyable for me. I wasn’t going to let anything take away that joy.
When it came to the day of the confirmation exam itself, I still told myself that it wouldn’t be a stressful experience. It was ok to be nervous, in fact that would probably help me, but it was going to be ok. I was going to do everything I could for it to be fun. And it was, it really was. Don’t get me wrong, I was professional and it was difficult, but I was doing what I love, I was answering questions about research that is my own, about a subject I love.
Perspective helped me massively. After all, I know as well as you do, the mind is a very very powerful thing. I really encourage you to consider your perspective and the way you are thinking about events or tasks – could it be thought about in a different way? A more supportive way? By having this perspective in place it means that decisions you make and the little things you do all add up to support what it is you vision the experience to be. Bottom line – where your attention goes energy flows. You can let your thoughts take you down a route of stress and suffering, or you can choose to think in a different way and potentially go down a route of enjoyment and reward. What do you have to lose by trying things differently?
I hope that this post may help anyone preparing for confirmation,or any other big milestone or task they are facing. I’d love any comments or feedback you might have.
And to anyone with their confirmation approaching – GOOD LUCK. Remember – you’ve got this!!
Til next time 🙂