Reflecting on blogging

I can’t believe my time as SGSAH blogger has come to an end! Tomorrow I’m passing the torch into the capable hands of Jimmy Johnson, and I’m really excited to see where he goes with the blog! I’ve spent a lot of time reading posts written by my predecessors, and it’s incredible how diverse a range of voices there are – though we might all fall under the same bracket of ‘PhD researchers’, there’s a million different ways that this plays out, and it’s so interesting to see how varied others’ experiences are.

When I started, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted my voice to be. I knew that I wanted to do something that meant a lot to me – sharing my experience as a PhD researcher with mental health problems. This was really outside my comfort zone. From my posts over the last 6 months, it may seem like I’m very open about my mental health, but I’m really not. Very few people who know me are aware of it. But, although we are making strides in this area and PhD students are becoming more open about sharing their mental health issues, I still think there’s a long way to go, and a lot of stigma yet to tackle. This stigma means that a lot of people (like me) are afraid to admit when they are struggling – so despite my own reticence and fear, I decided to share my experiences of anxiety, perfectionism, and depression. I really wanted to show (and I suppose prove to myself) that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and perhaps raise a little more awareness of these issues. I also hope that by sharing some of the things that have helped me get through the tougher times, I might have been able to help others going through the same thing.

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I also wanted to show that it’s possible to do a PhD even when you have pre-existing mental health problems. So often we hear negatives about PhDs and mental health before we’ve even started, to the point where I’ve even seen people with no history of mental health problems questioning whether doing a PhD is a good idea. Although it’s important to be well-informed about the realities of PhD life, I think it’s really damaging to send a message that PhDs are too tough for those of us who struggle with mental health problems, and that we shouldn’t do it. It’s so important that no one is put off from doctoral study or feels held back by their mental health problems, whether they pre-exist or come about during the PhD. Having said that, I do feel that some aspects of PhD culture, especially the expectation that we should always be working and the impossible amount of demands placed on us, do contribute to mental health problems and PhD imposter syndrome, and need to be tackled. I also think that we often lose track of our personal growth because of these things, and tend to forget about how strong we are and how much we’ve accomplished. Again, I hope that writing candidly about these things was helpful to other researchers.

Of course, not all of my posts were this intense! With some, I wanted to give an insight into my (I think slightly unusual) experiences, such as living in halls throughout my PhD and going straight through higher education without taking any breaks. I also wanted to share information that I wish I had known when I started, which I’ve also tried to do with my tips for organisation, what to do when you’re stuck or overwhelmed, writing, giving papers, maintaining a work-life balance, and generally being happier.

As well as sharing my own thoughts, opinions, and tips though, I’ve learnt a lot myself. While I’ve said that I was hesitant to share my experience of mental health for fear of being judged, I haven’t had a single unpleasant comment or criticism, but in fact, the opposite. This has given me the courage to start being more open with people in my life, which has been really positive for me – I’ve been able to have much more open conversations with others, who have likewise shared their own experience of mental health problems with me. I’m not saying I have rose-coloured glasses now – there will always be some people who just don’t get it. But that shouldn’t stop us from sharing and being open – in fact, it makes it even more vital. The blog has been such a great outlet for me (almost like breathing a sigh of relief, to unburden myself of some of these things), as well as an opportunity to reflect on the past three years and all the things that I’ve learnt along the way, as I come towards the end of my PhD.

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During my time as blogger, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to post some really fantastic guest pieces. A huge thank you to every single one of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to write for the blog! I’d also like to thank everyone at SGSAH – Lindsay and Gillian for giving me the opportunity to do this, and John for helping me with every question I had (no matter how mundane or weird!), and responding to every email so quickly! It’s been a great experience, and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to do it.

Finally, if you want to get in contact with me after today, please feel free to email me at egm@st-andrews.ac.uk, or follow me on Twitter (another thing that this job has taught me is how great academic Twitter is! I’ve been quite quiet on my personal account, but now I won’t be on the SGSAH Twitter feed, I’m sure I’ll be a lot more active on my own!).

And so, for the last time …

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Lizzie via email at egm9@st-andrews.ac.uk or connect with the blog on Twitter

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