Taming Monsters

Firstly, apologies for the long break between posts. I’ve been having a bit of a PhD crisis, so before I plunge straight back into writing regular posts (hopefully!) I thought I’d explain. I did say I’d write about PhD problems, too…

Where to begin… Well, not long ago I was all hopeful and happy, and determined to work hard, have fun and get an ace PhD. I was approached by a filming company that wanted to feature some of my work for a spider documentary, and during discussions with them I got all excited about my spider work and did lots of research and reading. Then unfortunately after a couple of weeks, their schedule became too full to feature me – these things happen! (It’s due to air in October by the way, will keep you posted.) I didn’t think I was too bothered, was just glad to have made the contacts and the experience. But it felt like a little bubble of joy had popped inside me. I love the science communication, public engagement, media kind of stuff, and oddly it’s really that which motivates me to work. Actually it’s more of a circle – my research is fun, let’s do research, let’s tell people about my research, gosh my research IS fun… – and so on. But without that to drive me, I realised that I was stagnating, I found no fun in the day-to-day of my project, even I knew that once complete it could be an awesome piece of work. I’ve had a few very miserable days, to put it mildly, something that many of you will know as the ‘PhD blues’.

PhDs do seem to have very severe ups and downs. And it feels like the downs last a lot longer than the highs, at least in my experience. Does that seem to happen to any of you out there? And why are we so hard on ourselves? We never feel like we’ve achieved enough, in this perpetual state of MUST DO MORE WORK. Possibly it’s something to do with the flexible, irregular hours – the fact that actually we could be working anywhere, any time; there’s always something we haven’t read, something new we haven’t discovered, something we haven’t thought of. And I used to relish this kind of drive, when I was an undergraduate. I was happy to work 24/7, and often did. But a certain family event has changed my mindset on that front. Now I appreciate the importance of having a break, spending time with family and friends, going to the pub and having a drink (or five) and whinging about your job and laughing about it. It’s a healthy thing to do (minus the large amounts of alcohol, probably). And I do think personally I’ve swung that way a little too far, I’m a bit too willing to give myself a break even when it feels like I haven’t achieved much. That’s something I’m going to work on. But I think the little things must be celebrated, and the fact that I’m still here and haven’t quit this stupid PhD yet is something to be proud of. It’s something that everyone embarking on a PhD should be proud of, because it’s totally unlike anything else. It takes everything out of you, frequently, over the course of many years. I could write much more on this subject, but I’ll save it for inevitable later crises, and later posts.

So what am I trying to say here? Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. Let’s give ourselves a break sometimes, and not feel bad about it. I’m lucky enough to be at a really lovely university, and the support team are just wonderful. They, and certain staff members / friends, have managed over the last few days to talk me out of walking away from this monster of a PhD, and into staying to try and tame it. So here’s to friends, here’s to pubs, and here’s to taming monsters. Cheers!

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8 thoughts on “Taming Monsters

  1. My friend who has finished his PhD said to me to ask yourself if you have done enough to get the job done. i.e. not have you done enough to be a super dooper student who discovers something amazing but have you done enough to do what you want to do… if that makes sense. That kind of helped me a little. But yes, I find it very hard to motivate myself sometimes, I rely on deadlines from supervisors to some extent to get me focussed.

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