We all have times in our lives when things just suck. When things aren’t going quite as we would have hoped personally and yet we still have a job to do – we still have to get our PhD’s. The pressure of this can become exceedingly clear when personal issues crop up and it can add to the difficulties we are facing.Sometimes we can do things to overcome the hard times, sometimes it’s just a case of making the ride a little gentler. Rather than burying our heads in the sand, which can be oh so tempting, there are ways we can make life easier for ourselves. There are steps we can take and things we can do that enable us to feel supported, and most importantly, to take the pressure off whilst we find our feet again. It is inevitable that during the course of a three-year PhD personal issues will come along, but they don’t have to mean the end of your doctoral pursuit and in fact, could help you find a new way of doing things that will help you in the future. Here are some of the things that help me when things suck.
It was around this time two years ago that I had (finally!) submitted my PhD research proposal and applied for both a position and ESRC funding here at the University of Bath. The six weeks following the application date were a bit nerve-wracking to say the least, but that period of time confirmed my strong desire to do a PhD. I got the email to confirm an interview that took place on March 23rd, and I found out I had been successful in my application the next day.
Interviews for PhD positions and funding tend to take place around this time of year, but positions can come up at any time. It felt fitting though, whilst I was reflecting on the process two years ago to share some tips regarding the interview.
My UCAS personal statement began:
“We are all different, it is the one thing we have in common”
*Cringe*. It is so incredibly cliché, but like most clichés, it’s also very true. The last few years in academia I have become aware of a number of differences that at first made me feel a bit like an alien, or at least someone on the sidelines that perhaps didn’t ‘fit in’. And that is exactly true, I didn’t ‘fit in’ to the ‘typical’ and I’ve learnt that is perfectly ok, and I’ve actually come to love it.
I know I’m not the only one that struggles with anxiety, in life in general and when it comes to doing a PhD. Though not many of us share the realities of going about daily life feeling worried, concerned or like our hearts might jump out of our chest. Sometimes knowing exactly why, other times not having a clue, just knowing there is this sense of impending doom that you just can’t quite put your finger on.
First of all, the anxiety I am personally talking about here is that feeling of worry, bordering on panic, feeling sped up and like there isn’t enough time to do everything. Shallow breathing, heart pounding just a little quicker and perhaps feeling unusually warm. A brick in your chest, a lump in your throat and your stomach doing somersaults. The anxiety where your mind spirals and decides to show you the low-lights reel. The what if’s and the worst case scenarios. Perhaps you can relate? With practice, these feeling states can be noticed, before you fall too far down the rabbit hole. And the point of noticing, the point of awareness is really the beginning of getting to the bottom of things.
I thought I’d share some of my go-to’s for when I’m feeling anxious.
I’ve done a lot of personal work on the self-care front over the last few years and am experiencing the benefits of doing so. In fact, my lack of blogging over the last few weeks are simply down to needing some time to myself. However a recent experience got me thinking about other areas of my life where self-care might be lacking. In particular, the area of conducting research and having contact with participants.
Ethical guidelines and standards aim to ensure that participants are protected during the research process, but can the same be said for the researcher themselves? The researcher is coming into contact with other people, and in some instances, particularly psychology, some really sensitive and emotive topics might be covered.
When I was developing my ethics proposal I thought a lot about reducing any possible distress for my participants and making sure that I did not cause any harm. I did think of myself in amongst this ethical application, but on a very matter of fact physical level. My recent experience has made me consider other factors, mental and emotional, that perhaps need to be taken into account. As a result of all this thinking and considering, I’ve developed myself a bit of a tool kit which will hopefully help me in the future to manage any potentially difficult situations in the moment and afterwards.
When it comes to charity, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would much rather give my time than my money. Don’t get me wrong, I do give money to charity, and I’m so glad that others do too. We can help so much. But for me, personally, I like to get involved. To get stuck in and give time is more rewarding to me than giving money. For one thing, you always know where your time has gone.
For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed organising charity events or volunteering. One of my earliest memories of doing something for a charity was a 1.5 mile stilt walk at the age of 9 years old. I was (and kind of still am) very proud of that achievement! But all through my education I have taken opportunities to volunteer. Sometimes these are one off occasions, other times they are more formal and regular. Some examples include volunteering for a telephone listening service for students, organising a kids Christmas party, being chair of the Bath Association of Psychology Students and currently, volunteering at the Carers’ Centre in Bath and Radstock.
Being at university is a fantastic time to volunteer and I know that my volunteering track record has lengthened significantly since first coming away to uni. Most universities have staff in their Student Union who are employed especially to arrange opportunities.
I couldn’t really tell you what it was that made me volunteer in the first place or what inspired me to do it, but I can certainly tell you why I love it and all the ways in which I have benefitted from giving some of my time. Today I’d like to share some of the things I have gained from giving…
A couple of weeks ago I attended an event at The Royal Institution in London called ‘The Science of Stress’. I probably wouldn’t have ventured to London mid-week if it hadn’t been for the fact that my supervisor Professor Julie Turner-Cobb was amongst the three experts presenting and then providing a question and answer panel session. It was great to support her and to see other individuals in the field present their work, and I was really glad that I went.
As someone who quite likes a bit of event management and organising an event, I was thinking on the train back to Bath, what makes a good panel event? Or any event for that matter? It really was a fantastic evening and I came away feeling enthused, excited, curious and impressed by all that I had heard. It was worth the journey to London and back.
So, what was it about this event that was so inspiring and excellent?