The Fear


It’s nighttime. It’s here again. That hard, swirling knot in my chest, tying itself up and up again in endless ways, and me along with it.

The panic, the fear, the guilt. Panic of so much to do. Fearing it won’t, it can’t get done. The guilt at not having done more already.

It hurts, almost. I retreat into my head, trapped in an endless cycle of fear, forceful calm, then hopelessness. My heart is beating fast.

How do you stop it? What makes it go away? I’ve felt it before, many times, but I can’t remember just how and why it ends. I’ve a terrible feeling it’s just… Giving in. Stopping caring so much. How many times can I give in a little and let go, stop worrying, and still produce worthwhile work? How many times can this happen before I give up?

Reading this over in the cold light of day, it seems so dramatic. It’s just a PhD, just a thesis, just one document. How can it cause this much grief? Those who haven’t been through a PhD or similar may not understand – hell, even I don’t really understand. And those who are tough and organised and smart and confident (do these people even exist?) may not relate, either.

It’s subsided now. I feel almost silly for having felt that way, having written those words. Sort of ashamed.

But it’ll come back. And with deadlines looming, I know it’ll get worse before it gets better. I know I can hold on until the end. Push through, get it done. But will ‘it’ be enough? I guess only time will tell.

Also see: Taming Monsters & Fears of Failure 

I Couldn’t Wait To Write My Thesis And Now I Wish I Was Doing Literally Anything Else

Catchy title, eh?

I haven’t written a blog post for ages, so what better time than now, when I’m in the angst and terror of writing up my thesis?

Searching through my draft posts to see if there was something I could conjure up from those, I stumbled upon one from March 2015 entitled “I Can’t Wait To Write My Thesis”. HAH! Not only is that hilarious in itself, it also contained the line “love the idea of sitting and writing everyday – currently my idea of bliss. Sure this will change.” Yes, it damn well will change, Past Me, you moron.

Actually… it’s not changed that much. I still like the idea of sitting down and writing every day. It just doesn’t really happen. I write a bit, I change it, I write a bit more, I change that. I create some data tables, edit some figures. Then I get sidetracked and discover yet another gorgeous font I may or may not use. Usually at this point I leave the house and get annoyed at how lovely being outdoors is, regardless of weather, and return not feeling energised and enthused, as planned, but grumpy and bitter.

So I’ve got <*puts fingers in ears* LA-LA-LA, I can’t hear you!> months until my thesis is due in. Time is really tight. But, I think I’m finally getting to the point where at the end of a day, progress has been made, and I haven’t just written stuff and unwritten it again, or found something wrong with my code or analysis and spent the day fixing that instead.

It’s a really really weird time. I don’t go into work much; I write better from home. It’s lonely. I get absurdly happy when I’m outside the house, and if I manage to make it into a pub I almost weep with delight. It’s nice being on my own time, but there’s so much pressure to be working constantly, as there always is throughout PhDs. But I’ve settled into a kind of manic calm acceptance.

I won’t lie, I’ll be very happy when this is handed in. Or, most likely, I’ll be apathetic, as I’ve heard several people say it’s oddly underwhelming once you finally finish. Of course, handing in isn’t the finish, there’s the viva terror and then however many months of corrections.

So, um… I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is, except to serve as something else to do instead of writing my thesis. And to share the weirdness of these final stages of PhD. I’d be interested to know how everyone else feels at this stage – pop me a line in the comments or tweet me @michelleareeve. Thanks to making it to the end of my thesis-fuelled drivel!

If you liked this post, you should probably be writing your thesis, too. Go on, go!

Pint of Spiders… With Robots

The end of May saw the arrival of the 3-day Pint of Science festival, which I was proud to present at this year! For those of you who don’t know it, each Pint of Science event features a couple of scientists talking about their awesome research, usually in a pub function room, to the general public. Tickets are super cheap and it’s after work so people are keen for a pint while hearing about and seeing some interesting science – making it incredibly accessible to everyone!

This year it was in 21 cities across the UK, and in 12 countries across the globe. I was part of the London events, in the Tech Me Out section. My talk was first up on the first night – and it was sold out, so no pressure…

For me, it was the first time I’d spoken about my research in depth to a completely general public audience – so preparing it was a new challenge! It was also the longest talk I’ve given to date, at around 25 minutes. As I was in the Tech section, I decided to begin with the cool robot stuff! Showing loads of videos of robots running around really calmed my nerves, and the audience seemed to like it too. Videos are always great in a talk!

I then showed lots of robot fail videos to highlight the fact that although today’s robots are great, they’re not always that great…


Then that got me into talking about how we can learn from the way animals move, and especially spiders – and onto my work (which is detailed in a previous post).

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Pint of Science. The audience were great, and asked lots of interesting questions at the end, which is always a good sign! There was beer, there was science, there was a super interesting speaker after me talking about using tech to improve athletic performance – what more could you want?!

Lucy Orr of Ars Tecnhica did a nice write-up of my talk (thank you!) and some nice people tweeted some nice stuff:

All in all, it was a brilliant experience, and one I can highly recommend to all researchers and scientists out there. A relaxed atmosphere, a great team of volunteers (big thanks to Agata Nyga, Fabio Tommasini & Francesca Solmi of UCL for organising the event I spoke at!) and science in a pub. Perfect.

Also a big thanks to Mendeley, who sponsored the Tech Me Out event. They gave us some cool free stuff and they featured a summary of my talk on their blog.