Doing a PhD is a weird thing; you’re suddenly very independent and hyper-aware of how useful your impact may or may not be. The feeling of being useful is a great one, it gives you purpose and confidence and fuels your determination. On the flipside though, that feeling of being useless, a bit surplus to requirements, is absolutely horrible. I spoke to a post-doc last week who said she had that feeling all the way through her PhD – we put it down to a pretty weak relationship with her Supervisor. Thankfully I haven’t had that problem at all, I’m very lucky to be part of the Health Services Research Unit team here at the University of Aberdeen. I feel like I work well with my Supervisor, I feel useful and like my work has the potential to make a difference, and I feel supported and comfortable enough to ask if I’m not sure of something. I realise I’m one of the lucky ones, so I thought I’d give you a few ideas on how to stay determined, even if the team around you aren’t so supportive.
- Sign up for training
A lot of us forget that a PhD is a training degree – we are not expected to be perfect at everything first time, if we were then the entire process of doing a PhD would be pretty pointless. Sign up for training courses; these don’t have to be face-to-face sessions, there are hundreds of online courses available these days and most are free! Try www.coursera.org as a starting point. This week I attended 2 face-to-face courses run by NHS Grampian Research & Development – these were both free and really, really useful. If you’re in a health-related field have a look for courses at your local NHS Trust. Not only did I find these courses useful in terms of the practical skills I learned and content I was exposed to, I think attending courses really shows that you want to learn. Try to make contacts – your classmates will be feeling just like you are! Engage in discussions and ask questions to those around you, you’ll come away feeling motivated and your work will really benefit from the additional knowledge and confidence you’ve gained.
- Use social media
Twitter is a brilliant place to network, find out new information and connect with people you wouldn’t encounter otherwise. Use hashtags so people can find you, and follow hashtags relevant to your field of research so you can find others. This week I found a new article I wouldn’t have found without the use of Twitter, it was super useful and gave me a link to someone else in the field who could be a potential for collaboration in the future.
- Get involved
Of course you’ll be busy working on PhD related tasks – I’ve been working away on my PhD protocol and the protocol for a new systematic review this week, but I think it’s important to get involved in other projects outside of work too. Working on related projects can help focus your thoughts, give you experience in writing for your subject and build skills that will ultimately benefit your research. Recently I’ve been writing blog posts for Students 4 Best Evidence (S4BE), a project aiming to give students an outlet to write, support and get involved with evidence based research. I’ve found that blogging for S4BE has developed my ability to critically analyse evidence, read journals and articulate my thoughts and views in a way that’s reader-friendly.