In The Zone

My last blog post was pretty gloomy, and led to lots of people asking if I was okay. That wasn’t the intention of that post – but thanks to all those lovely people who reached out!

Good news is that things are going much better. That bit of Fear really gave me a kick up the proverbial and made me just sit down and do stuff. So now I’m what I like to call ‘In The Zone’, which has many benefits, but also its problems.

For me, being In The Zone is being (reasonably) focused, able and willing to get up, sometimes go to the gym, get breakfast, sit down at my desk, and being prepared to stay sat there all day. And often most of the evening. And then doing the same thing the next day. And the next. And over the weekend. Even the Bank Holiday weekend (I’m not bitter about that at all.. nope).

And really, that’s probably what most people expect of a PhD student, that constant pressure to be constantly working which I’ve fought against for the last almost 4 years. I’ve tried hard to keep my evenings and weekends free, but now it’s crunch time, and stuff needs to get done, so something has to give.

Sacrificing my free time isn’t one of the problems I was talking about, though – I always knew that would need to happen at some point. The problem with this phase of working is getting too stuck in your own head. You’re in there, just you, all day. I work mostly from home these days, so apart from the other half getting home in the evenings, I rarely talk to an actual face-to-face human. So you’re trapped in your own mind, talking to yourself (sometimes out loud), focused on the task at hand, and just working. And this is great! You get lots done, you feel good at the end of the day, so good you often continue working.

But it’s very easy to stay up there, in your head, when it’s time to come out. Like when your other half gets home and tries to have a conversation, and you respond with mumbled, half-formed sentences (sorry, Josh). Or when you meet friends at the pub on the one occasion you let yourself free of your study-prison, and all you can do is stand there wide-eyed and smile manically at the many people and noises and colours of the world outside (sorry, friends). It can be really hard to dismount your own brain for a bit and engage with the world, especially if you know it’s only for a few hours until you have to work again. But it’s important to try. Last night I gave myself an evening off to recharge and went to the Science Museum Lates, which also served to remind me of all the cool science and sci-comm going on out there, and why I kept at this sodding PhD.

So although The Fear was pretty scary and really not welcome at the time, through writing about it here and getting lots of lovely people saying lovely supportive things (along with a long weekend in Amsterdam), it has been enough to push me into what is rightly the most productive part of my PhD. But if you find me wandering around in the outside world, muttering spidery-sounding words and cowering from the bright sunlight, please shoo me back to my study.


On Recording a Podcast

Most people spend wintery Sunday evenings snuggled on the sofa in front of the telly, with a cup of tea clutched in their hands, trying to squeeze the last drops out of the weekend. But this weekend I, along with three other PhD students across the country, were instead huddled around our microphones. I was recording my first ever podcast episode!

Mendel’s Finches is a science and society podcast run by a few PhD students across the University of London, and they kindly asked if I’d like to be a guest for an episode all about biomechanics! I was to be joined by fellow PhD student Alex Evans, who does cool research on the biomechanics of bird flight at the University of Leeds, and has a rather good blog that can be found here. We’d actually met previously, at last year’s SEB conference, and had a good chinwag about all things blogging, Twitter, and science communication.

I managed to borrow a mic from Bethan, one of the Mendel’s Finches regulars, and after a few technical issues (sorry again, guys…) I could finally hear Alex, Matt and Lawrence. We were ready to begin chatting about birds, spiders and robots!

I won’t give away too much about what we discussed (you’ll have to listen when the episode is out!), but Alex and I chatted about our respective research, we talked about why some people are scared of spiders, and there was a lot of chat about bio-inspired robots. We love robots! (Sadly Alex realised afterwards that we’d totally missed the opportunity to discuss the return of BBC’s Robot Wars. I think we should do another episode.)

We actually wound up talking a bit about some of the stuff I post on here; imposter syndrome, loneliness in PhDs, and the mental health issues in academia. Once again it struck me how important it is to actually talk about and acknowledge these things.*

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my recording experience. There’s something so natural about audio, just four scientists chatting away excitedly about our research. I’m lucky enough to have been on a few science communication training courses that have involved some radio and interview practice, but they were a long while ago, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it!

Thanks to the guys at Mendel’s Finches for a great alternative way to spend a rainy Sunday evening. I will post the episode on here once it’s been released! In the meantime, have a listen to their other episodes and get in touch with them on the links below:

Mendel’s Finches can be found on Twitter; they have a blog; and all their episodes are on SoundCloud.

*If you’re interested to read some of my posts about the difficulties in PhDs, you can find them here, and here. Here is some information about imposter syndrome. Feel free to reach out to me via this blog, my Twitter, or my email if you’re struggling and want to chat. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Problems with Perfection

Something that’s troubled me throughout my PhD is my obsession with achieving perfection. As I touched on in last week’s post about editing my writing, I can get stuck for so long trying to make something ‘perfect’; the ultimate unachievable goal.

It’s not just in my writing this has been a problem. Though actually, for writing, I appreciate Continue reading