So my time as Cambio blogger is up! How the time flies. I’d love to report having my lab work finished and thesis writing well underway, but the truth is that neither is true. While fairly lab fit, I seem to be running a marathon, and am beginning to ‘hit the wall’.
The parallels are actually fairly accurate – physical fatigue that isn’t relieved by periods of rest, and mental fatigue that can make you think “I can’t do this!” The problem is, I wouldn’t launch myself into a marathon with no training – but that is what’s happened with my PhD. While my university provides excellent skills training, unfortunately there is no course about how to push through the final stages of a PhD, no one to explain the equivalent of carb loading for lab work.
This all sounds very negative, but the truth is, I never read anything like this when I was starting my course. No one warned me about how tiring it can be to finish a PhD, or how to cope with it, and I could have done with knowing. There is a reason why a PhD is a respected qualification. They don’t just give them away. So as I depart I’d like to say a few things that have helped me – though I imagine hindsight will be the best teacher of all.
Talk to your lab mates
One of the most helpful things throughout my PhD – from the beginning when I didn’t know what I was doing, to the present when I’m getting exhausted – is to talk to people in my cohort. My lab buddies are a constant source of support for my frustrations, and there is no therapy quite like ‘being in it together’.
Try to keep healthy
If you’re doing your PhD straight out of uni you may be able to simply power through without your body complaining too much, but I suspect that towards the end it may begin to grumble. Ramen noodles and coffee is not going to help your plight (despite what PhD Comics may suggest). Drink water. Get enough sleep. Eat lots of veg. Walk into uni rather than driving. Look after yourself and save yourself some grief.
Take a break
Whilst some supervisors are over the moon if you’re working every hour God sends, your body won’t be. Treat it like a job. As a PhD student you will have a holiday allowance like an actual real person, so make sure you take it. Seven day weeks are a no-no.
Try to stay organised
Personally, this has been my single best way of reducing stress. You might not need to go as far as making a GANTT chart in Excel (ahem), but writing down your plans and a rough timescale does wonders for getting things off your mind. If it’s on paper, you don’t need to remember it. And if you feel you’re getting nowhere, seeing what you’ve ticked off can be brilliant motivation.
Keep the end in sight
While organisation helps stress levels, keeping an eye on my goal is what keeps me motivated, and is helping me power through the wall. Whether it’s the prospect of a well-paid job, having Dr. on your credit card or getting one qualification up on a sibling, visualising what you want at the end is excellent incentive when you get low. For me it’s a week watching my new Frasier boxset in my pyjamas with a family-size packet of Wotsits (see previous post). And then the credit card thing.
So, there are my pearls of wisdom. If there’s a cure-all for PhD stress I haven’t found it yet – please do suggest your own ideas. I am now off to try and complete my lab work by September, write a thesis and eventually regain a normal life. I seem to recall that at the end of a marathon they thrust sugary food into your hands, so I’m holding out hope on that one.