When I started as the SGSAH blogger six months ago, I did so with the anticipation that it would allow me a space to be creative when so much of my PhD life was anything but. What I didn’t expect from this time was to be introduced to so many amazing researchers who, for the past year and a half, have been through the ringer but still manage to trudge on. As I write my last post as the SGSAH blogger, I want to first and foremost make sure you all know how astounded I am by all of you (regardless of whether or not you continue your PhD). You’ve reminded me that my complicated feelings about my research and my academic choices are completely normal. You’ve shown me that the loneliness of a PhD doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. I hope to always give the kind of support that you all have given me these past six months.
OK, enough of the sappy stuff. Because I’m entering the last six (?!) months of my PhD, I thought I’d offer some advice for those still early in their PhD experiences. Take from me what you will:
Remember: You’re here for a reason
I don’t mean this in the strict ‘you’re here for a reason so focus!’ sense. No, what I mean is that there will be times (or maybe there have already been times) when you feel like what you’re doing isn’t important. When you question whether you’re good enough to be where you are. In my experience, these thoughts don’t ever really go away. After three years as a PhD researcher, I’m still not sure if I belong in academia or if I have what it takes to go any further than I already have. But what helps me during these moments of panic and self-doubt is remembering that I am here for a reason. Even if that reason is as simple as the fact that I’ve always wanted a PhD. Find your reason. Care for it. And, if that reason ever becomes less important, know that it’s OK to take a step back.
Don’t let others define what academia means to you
There are a lot of people who will try to tell you the ‘best’ way to approach a PhD (am I doing that now? Probably, but I swear it’s for the greater good!). The truth is that there is no ‘best’ way. I’ve been told countless times that I should treat my PhD like a job and work 9-5, Monday-Friday. I even used to give this advice myself. Here’s a secret, though: I’ve never actually worked on my thesis 9-5, Monday-Friday. My point here is that only you can define your approach to academia. And, in a field that continues to wrongly praise overwork and overexertion, I hope that your approach centres your wellbeing as much as possible.
Your PhD does not have to become your life
Now that Academic Twitter exists, it can be easy to feel like every part of your life has to reflect your research, from social media to your free time. And while plenty of academics might have chosen research that they want to become part of their life, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. My free time and my social media exist separately from my PhD research because I need a firm line of separation between work and relaxation. I don’t know if one way is better than the other, but I do know that my way is what works best for me. You just have to find what works for you.
Something I always tell my students before they get their essay marks back and before they take their exams is that while University matters, it does not matter more than their lives or wellbeing. And the same is true for those of us doing PhDs. Of course our research matters (even if some don’t think it does), but it is not so important that we can’t sleep in every now and then, or lay in the park on a warm day, or decide that maybe we want something different than we thought we did. So, if anything, I hope my little bits of advice help you create a PhD experience that is, above all, the right one for you.
Though this is my last post, I’m not quite done with blogging yet! You can find me over at my book blog, ToweringTBR, where I battle my way through my increasing ‘to be read’ pile. I’m also on Twitter @danies394 and Instagram @daniellees and @towering_tbr