New Year’s Resolutions for PhD Students

In this week’s post, blogger Vesna Curlic welcomes you back to the blog with a post about New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re still pondering yours or wanting to revise your existing list (January 1st is a silly date to pick to start anyway), this post will guide you through some possible resolutions!

People in the academic world have the unique gift of having twice the number of ‘fresh starts’ in any given year. For many, September is the start of a new year, a new job, a new school, etc. But nonetheless, January continues to feel like a fresh start and that brings with it New Year’s Resolutions. I want to start by saying that if you don’t have the energy to make resolutions this year, I wholeheartedly give you permission to abstain. We are two years into a pandemic. Regular yearly rules and expectations need not apply.

Personally, I like making resolutions. This is not because I am a uniquely motivated or high-achieving person. You’ll notice, for example, ‘finish PhD thesis’ is notably missing from this years’ resolution list, despite the fact that this is my third year. No, I like making resolutions because I like imagining all the things I could possibly do with my year.

In my case, a big part of this exercise in imagining is being a little over-ambitious. If you’re looking for someone to tell you to make small, measurable, sensible resolutions, I am not that person. In my personal philosophy, there is a particular energy that comes from setting lofty goals and seeing how close I can get. It’s a modern embrace of the cheesy old adage ‘shoot for the moon – even if you fail, you’ll land among the stars.’ However, this attitude might not serve you, so these categories of resolutions have room for you to adjust to your own personal needs.

Here is how I made my 2022 resolutions list:

A thesis-related goal

The most obvious place to start is with your thesis. Despite my embrace of large-scale goals, even I can admit that this is a place where breaking down a large goal is beneficial. Thesis goals could include finishing a certain number of chapters this year or getting into the archives or finishing your fieldwork. Mine is twofold – I have a cumulative word count goal I’d like to reach by December and I also want to set aside some time every week simply to read around my research. I spend a lot of time adding digital books and articles into my reference manager, but never give myself time to read through them. Reading without a specific purpose is when some of my best ideas come to fruition, so I’m trying to cultivate that more intentionally this year.

A non-thesis academic goal

It will come as a surprise to no one that academia demands a lot more than just thesis work. I find having yearly resolutions about this other work can help make it more manageable over the course of the PhD. This year, mine is publish a paper! This has been lingering around me since the start of the PhD and this is the year that I finally take the plunge. I have the research done but sitting down to put it all together is proving to be daunting. Other examples could be organising a conference, presenting at a conference, giving a guest lecture or writing about your research for a blog.

A goal that is career-oriented

For some, this might overlap with the ‘academic goals’ category, if you are someone who is wholly concentrated on the academic job market. However, for the vast majority of the PhD students I know, non-academic jobs are also on the table, especially in the face of an increasingly difficult job market. This is why I think it is worthwhile to include one goal that diversifies your skills and allows you to gain experience in an adjacent field. An obvious example is doing a non-academic internship. I spent a lot of time focusing on internships last year and have found them infinitely valuable. This year, I’m personally resolving to work on my digital humanities skills. In particular, I’d like to learn some GIS skills, which I think will help my future career prospects.

A goal that nourishes your soul

I recently saw a tweet that advised that people should also create resolutions that add pleasure to their lives, not just ones that take away pleasure. This idea really stuck with me, which is why I think that a joyful, pleasurable resolution should be a non-negotiable part of your PhD goals this year. I challenge you to consider: what is something you can resolve to do every day or every week that is simply about joy? Not about bettering yourself or making yourself more productive, but just something that makes you smile. Mine is to spend more time engaging in my hobbies, especially needlepoint and rollerskating.

Hopefully this helps you if you’re still pondering your resolutions or if, one week into the new year, you’re looking to revise your initial list. Big resolutions or small, I am wishing you all success and happiness in 2022!

Vesna Curlic is a PhD researcher in History at the University of Edinburgh and current SGSAH Blogger. Her thesis project considers the relationship between disease, disability, and the British immigration system in the early twentieth century. More broadly, her research interests include the history of medicine and science, modern immigration law, and public health policy. She splits her time between Edinburgh and her hometown of Toronto, Canada.

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