Hello everyone and Happy New Year!
I thought I would start my first post of 2014 with a reassurance of the emotions I don’t doubt you’ll experience during the course of your PhD. So here they are, in no particular order, just written as they spill out of my brain!
1. I have no idea what I’m doing.
This one is my favourite and undoubtedly the most common feeling to reoccur throughout the PhD experience. You often have to research techniques to use, work out what equipment you need and ask others for advice on how appropriate the technique is for what you are trying to do. You have to write plans, reports, presentations, posters and regularly explain to others what you are doing and why. This can sometimes leave you feeling unsure, but you must remember that people often question what you are doing and why to help not hinder you and because you are better positioned from your research to hypothesize and answer questions on the topic!
2. Is any of this good enough for my thesis?
Again, another favourite of mine. Often, I am working away, happy that I am busy and feel like I’m getting things done. Then, when I’m just about to fall asleep that night, I suddenly think ‘Is this enough? Is this relevant? Does it answer the questions I am asking? Do I have time to do enough?’. After this moment of panic, I then calm myself with the reassurance that you can only do so much! You only have one pair of hands! Just keep working hard, thinking about what you are doing and why and regularly seek help and advice from others.
3. Why is nobody listening to me?
I would describe the best way to deal with this feeling as being politely persistent. You can’t do a PhD alone – you need other people to help in numerous ways – to explain things, provide equipment, give advice, provide contacts etc. Sometimes, getting other people to help you isn’t that easy! This isn’t to say that people are unhelpful, it can just be that they have their own work and commitments. Hence, it is a bit of a balancing act, where you have to send more than one e-mail, set-up meetings, pop to a lab or office to visit the relevant people, see what you can do to help them – polite persistence!
4. Should I just go home now?
Often, I feel tired and the work-life balance starts to feel out of sync. So, I decide that I should get done what I need and get an early finish to have a relaxing evening to re-charge. Then, I start doing some work in the lab and have the inevitable ‘Well,…if I just to this…and this as well……then I can also do this….’ and before I know it, it’s 6 or 7pm. Sometimes, this is necessary, but often, if you utilise 9-5 time or whatever hours that work for you, it isn’t. So, I would say, think about what you really need to do and when you really need a break!
5. Is it cake time?
This one may not be as relevant to all, but during the course of my PhD, cake time has been a great source of bonding with fellow postgrads and post docs. A time where we can share our successes and failures of the day, share news and random talk to help make each day that bit more enjoyable. I recommend it.
6. Why doesn’t anything just work?
This is the most annoying thought I have on a regular basis. Often, you stay late and spend hours making what feels like baby steps in progress. I have spent months trying to select and optimise techniques and get them to work. It is frustrating, more than I can express in words. However, please don’t give up! Keep persevering and eventually you’ll get where you want to go. Without realising it, you’re problem solving skills and ability to work independently will have progressed in leaps and bounds. My only word of caution is to also communicate with others in order to discuss what your doing to get advice to help you progress most effectively and not end up spending lots of time optimising methods or doing things when there are more effective and less time consuming approaches.
7. Do I have time?
Time becomes an increasing concern as your PhD progresses. Before you know it, one year, two years has passed and the finish line is approaching. Meanwhile, you have a list as long as your arm of things you need to do, want to try, would like to fit in. It annoys me to say it, but the best way of dealing with this is to plan your time. Think about how long you have and what you can realistically do in both the short and long term in this time. Speak to your supervisors and determine what is essential, what would be good and what you can do only if you have time. If you can see where you need to get to and plan your time so that you can get there, it helps you feel much calmer as time inevitably passes.
8. Why have they done so much?
One feeling that is difficult to avoid is comparing yourself to others. Often, you’ll listen to a presentation of someone who isn’t as far into their PhD as you, and you end up thinking ‘Why have they got so many results?!’, ‘Oh no, they have already got two chapters there, what have I got?!’. What you need to realise is that each PhD project is different. You cannot compare projects or progress. Focus on your project and view what you see and hear about others as an opportunity to gain ideas and advice.
9. Am I actually making any progress?
Often you can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall. Constantly working, yet making what seems like tiny amounts of progress when you write what you’ve done on a piece of paper. I would advise you to look back at old plans, reports and presentations. Go back in your lab book and see where you were say two months ago and what you know now that you didn’t know then. This can help you to see the learning curve that is a PhD!
10. What will I do when I hand my thesis in?
As the end approaches, people start to ask you what you’re going to do next. This is difficult to think about, especially when you can’t see past getting a thesis written. I would suggest you spend a little bit of time thinking about what you do and don’t enjoy and what your priorities in life are. Then think about what careers fit into this- don’t feel like your the only one who doesn’t know what they want to do next, I’m still trying to take my own advice here!
Happy PhD’ing all!