Recently, I successfully passed my viva, which was the culmination of four years of work. There were times when it was stressful, times where I questioned my decision to pursue a PhD and one or two moments where I contemplated whether postgraduate studies were for me at all. While every PhD journey is different, the majority of, if not all, PhD students have similar moments of doubt. With that in mind, I would like to share some of the things that I felt helped me during the four-year process, so that by the time I get close to submission, and subsequent PhD defence, that I was not cursing the life decisions that I had made!
Do not be defined by your PhD: Pursuing a PhD is a challenging, yet rewarding, experience. Over a four-year period, you get to pursue a topic that you are passionate about and contribute to the understanding of that field. From that, it is only right that you should take pride in doing a PhD. However, do not be defined by your PhD, or that fact that you are a PhD student. Finding a balance is key to you enjoying the PhD journey. For me, I was fortunate enough to be an Associate Coach/Sport, and Exercise Scientist in Swim Ireland’s National Centre Limerick (NCL) throughout my studies. This offered me another avenue to channel my time and energy, so that I was not a PhD student 24/7.
It is okay to take some downtime: PhD guilt seems to be a common feeling amongst postgraduate students when they go to take some downtime. That idea that your PhD is hanging over you and that you should always be working on it. I am certain that no one who works a full-time job gets guilty when they are on leave from work! Allowing yourself time to switch off and enjoy a break from your PhD is crucial. Trying to work at breakneck speed throughout your PhD, with little to no time off, is a sure way for you to become unmotivated and not eager to continue. Making the most of the time you have off, regardless of how long or short it is, or what you do during it, is key.
Be positive: Remember, you were the one who decided to do the PhD; nobody forced you to do it! A lot of the time, we tend to focus on the negatives of our PhDs – the amount of data we have to collect, the never-ending deadlines, the numerous revisions to any document you write, the hours of data analysis, etc. However, there are plenty of positives that go with doing a PhD. Focusing on those, rather than the negatives, makes the process seem that little bit easier. Sometimes we take it for granted that we have been given the opportunity to pursue a PhD, when less than 1% of the world’s population currently have one.
So, in a nutshell do not let your PhD be the only thing you are doing, take (and enjoy) your downtime when you can and try and stay positive. You never know, you might actually find that you enjoy the process!
Cormac Powell is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. Cormac can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. View Cormac’s profile on ResearchGate or on Twitter