Back to Academia

It’s been a weird transition back into PhD land.

First day back, I trawled through my lab notebook to figure out where I was.               Scary thing #1: The last entry was dated 28th August. ARGH. That was a long time ago. Scary thing #2: I’d stopped MID-SENTENCE. Mid-sentence, yes really. Talking about what I needed to show on my plots: “what I want to plot is the X-coordinate against..” – and that was that. Useful. Clearly just clocked off at 5pm.

So, the last couple of weeks have been spent trying to decipher my notes, trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. I was preparing for an appraisal (which unfortunately had to be postponed due to a family bereavement), so I have a half-finished appraisal report that I now need to polish. I think I’m about up to scratch with my data, what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what I was planning. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite difficult to remember your thought processes for things that happened almost five months ago! One thing I have learnt is to write down EVERYTHING in your head. The reasons you’re doing things, the thoughts behind them, the questions you were asking. That stuff is infinitely valuable when you’re trekking back through the mountains of your notes, and I suspect that’ll be something I do a lot when it comes to writing the dreaded thesis.

I tell you what though, taking time out of my PhD has been great. Apart from the amazing time I had on my placement, it’s given me headspace to think about other things, solve problems I’d been facing in my PhD, space to think about future plans for PhD and beyond. I’ve come up with some Grand Plans for the near future, and not-so-near future – but that’s for another post! But, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually excited about my research. I don’t mind sitting at my desk in the evenings, reading stuff, writing stuff, planning stuff. I’ve actually skipped runs and gym sessions to stay at home and work, whereas before it’d be any excuse to get away.

I’ve also remembered why I was getting so stressed out in the first place. A lot of it was to do with the location of the campus I work at, actually – the train line I use to get there is horribly unreliable. I like routine, I’d like to know that I can get into work at a certain time every day, but every train I’ve got this year has been delayed. Sometimes by only a couple of minutes, sometimes just completely cancelled. It drives me crazy. And it’s not cheap, either. But I’ve got plans on how to deal with that, too – get into work a couple of days a week in order to attend lab meetings and seminars, regardless of how irritating the trains are; work from home a couple of days (I quite like my own company, especially when I’m reading & writing new things); and then spend one day in London, at UCL where one of my supervisors is based, so I can see and meet different people, and socialise with friends after work (all of whom work in London). So that’s my plan. Working in different locations seems to work for me, it’s like getting a fresh perspective on things. Let’s hope that this is a plan that works, because I have got a LOT to do this year!

Of course, my return to academia will be interspersed with science communication work – working events where I can, both at the RVC and the Royal Institution, and anywhere that’ll have me really! And lots of writing on here to come too, I hope. This is the stuff that really keeps me going, makes me remember why I stuck out my PhD when I came so close to quitting.

Let’s face it, PhDs are just really weird things. All we can do is make plans to get through them, to keep enjoying them, and hope for the best. Here’s to the Grand Plans you’re making right now – I’ll share mine with you soon.

Did you like this post? You might also like Taming Monsters.


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