…by Sinéad / from Ireland / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year
A few weeks ago I had my first year PhD review.
Yes it went well, thank you for asking.
At this moment I can’t help but reflect over the past year, most likely because they literally had me write a paper about it. A lot of this first year experience was what I expected, and a lot of it wasn’t what I’d planned for. It’s had mostly ups and some downs, and I feel as though I’ve already learned quite a bit. I’m well aware that the first year is just the first few steps in the long journey that is a PhD, but indulge me as I attempt to convey any bits of wisdom that I’ve amassed and somehow managed to convince myself are useful. Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts, musings, regrets, and points of pride, all about this first year as a PhD student.
- You never shut off. Having worked in research before I was well aware of this particular niggle; you can never escape your own research. Even if you “clock out” at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to shut off your brain. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as often great bursts of inspiration can come at the most unlikely of times, but it is something to be aware of. Despite treating my PhD like a regular job as much as possible, it isn’t a regular job. It will haunt your thoughts, and even if you have a strict no weekend working rule, your brain might not be as accommodating as you’d like it to be.
- It’s hard. A PhD is a lot of work. Duh. Aside from the expected high volume of reading, writing and arithmetic, there’s also all your data collection, meetings, paperwork and personal missions like figuring out how to actually scan something on the large and intimidating printer. This isn’t a surprise to anyone, or at least it shouldn’t be, but it is something to occasionally remind yourself of. When you have a bad day, which you inevitably will, it’s okay to give yourself a hug and a wee bit of comfort, by reminding yourself that it’s supposed to be hard and it’s okay to have moments of despair or existentialism.
- It’s a team effort. Yes, a PhD is a solitary piece of research work, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s done alone. We’ve spoken about it on this blog before, but having a supportive team around you can make the world of a difference. From supervisors to colleagues, having a nurturing work environment can make the vital difference between having an overwhelming day and having a soul crushing one. From big things like someone offering to proof read some work or chat through a problem you’ve been having, to little things like someone making a cup of tea or suggesting a book you might find helpful, the positive effect of a supportive work environment cannot be overstated.
- It’s a team effort Part 2. While I do plan on sending my thesis to my family and friends I certainly won’t be offended if they can’t bear to read the billion words (despite each and every one of those words clearly being life changing). Don’t get me wrong, I am very fortunate to have friends and family who do offer some proof reading and note giving, but the support from them goes far beyond paperwork. Before starting my PhD I was naive in thinking I wouldn’t call upon my team for as much support as I inevitably have. I grossly underestimated how much it would mean to have people ask how it’s going, to have people seem (or at least convincingly pretend) to be interested in my work, and to have people encourage me to find a balance between working hard and taking time for self care. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention what a difference having a supportive partner is. My husband is a testament to how to take care of a PhD student. We’re a lot like plants. He drags me out to get fresh air, brings me plenty of fluids, and encourages me to grow.
- It’s fun. I’m not going to lie, I’m having a hell of a time. A lot of times what you read about is all the doom and gloom that surrounds the life of a PhD student. “You don’t sleep”, “you have no money”, “it takes over your life”. Yes, in part these are somewhat true. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. There are definitely ups and downs and I’m well aware that I’m just finishing off the year that is normally referred to as the “easy part”. But I’m also surrounded by people in various stages of their PhD (and pre and post PhD) and I have to say, they’re having a lot of fun too. A PhD is an exciting endeavour and I think it’s important to keep that in mind. Enjoy the insanity! This is a temporary period that one day you will, hopefully, look back fondly on. Dare I say it…these could end up being “the good old days”. So my goodness, we should probably enjoy them as best we can.