Looking for survival suggestions for PhD students? We’ve got you covered.
As any academic will tell you (usually with a wry laugh and a grimace), doing a PhD isn’t at all like doing an undergraduate degree. Yes, you’re officially a student, but you’re a student who must function without the reassuring framework of the taught course. You get to decide what you should be doing, when you should be doing it and how much of it you need to do.
That’s a huge amount of uncertainty to cope with, even before you get down to project work. No wonder the PhD years are such an anxious time for so many researchers.
We spoke to some PhD students to find out their favourite coping strategies, and we’ve also added a couple of our own.
Exercise – daily if possible
When you’re trying to crack a thorny problem, meet deadlines or stay on top of a scary workload, it’s all too easy to stay at your desk for hours at a time.
We know this all too well, and some of us (who shall remain nameless) emerged from our research degrees with a substantial extra spare tyre, typing-induced RSI and a grey, corpse-like pallor.
This could have been avoided by prioritising daily exercise. Even a brisk walk to and from the lab or library can boost your physical wellbeing, mental health and ability to think.
Keep your perspective, and focus on the skills you really need
Loss of perspective is a big issue for PhD students. This isn’t surprising.
If your supervisor is the hands-off type and your project isn’t tightly defined, you can be forgiven for imagining that you need to know everything in order to succeed. That would be fine, except—duh–your funding is definitely going to run out way before you’ve learned it all.
Our students’ advice? Don’t waste time trying to learn techniques and skills you won’t use in your research. Keep an evolving list of the training you definitely need, and cover that first.
Feel it all slipping away from you? Try cognitive behaviour therapy
We’re not really touchy-feely types here at Loose Ends, but we have only good things to say about cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
It’s a blanket term for a whole suite of approaches and techniques which help you change the way you look at the world. It’s usually short-term, problem-focused and extremely effective, and gets results without the need for fraught discussions about your deep past.
Loss of perspective happens to the best of us.
A PhD is a big, complex undertaking, and an overdose of bigness and complexity can do weird things to your outlook. If you feel it’s all slipping away from you, CBT can help you get it back under control.
Don’t neglect your wider social network
Doing a research degree can be a bit like moving to a far-away country.
You’ve got a tightly-knit group of new colleagues, and you all speak the same exotic language. Unfortunately, it’s easy to neglect old friendships because you’re working long hours and trying to maintain a laser-like focus.
This isn’t a good idea. One day your PhD will be behind you, and it’d be regrettable if your old friendships were also a thing of the past.
Make time to meet up with your pre-PhD pals, even if it’s for a sociable lunch or quick coffee. Download the Loose Ends app and use it to schedule a restorative get-together whenever you’ve got a couple of hours spare.
Send us your favourite coping tips, whether you’re currently doing a PhD, or have completed one in the past. Email us on [email protected]