“So, how’s your PhD going?” has to be the question I get asked the most frequently – but perhaps more importantly it’s the question I ask myself fairly regularly. Being a Phd student requires many skills, some of which I had already but many of which I’m working hard to develop as I go. Almost two years in, and I feel that I should maybe have developed most of them by now.. and therein one of the biggest issues I’ve encountered with my PhD studies (and let’s face it, life in general!). Things I should have done. Skills I should have developed. Papers I should have written. Conferences I should have attended. People I should have met. Books I should have read. Etc.
In order not to feel completely overwhelmed with all these shoulds, everybody needs a bit of help. In life that usually comes from our friends and families; and here’s another big problem with my PhD. Much as I love the Institute of Education where I’m lucky enough to be a student, the one thing it really lacks for me personally is any sense of a department. I have a fantastic working relationship with my supervisor and have attended some great training courses with other members of staff, and I’ve met many lovely people also studying at the IOE, but I don’t belong to a department full of people researching similar areas. The most significant way in which this affects my actual output is in terms of motivation. It’s hard to keep on studying when you feel like you’re the only person in the world doing what you’re doing – but this is something that I’m sure every PhD student can identify with, because pretty much by definition, you are!
So I’ve been looking for help recently and am happy to report that having study days with friends who are also studying or writing is proving extremely effective. Happy days in the British Library with Corrina Connor and an extremely productive writing day with Nicola Doherty have given me a sense of purpose and enjoyment which I find hard to muster sometimes when sitting alone at my desk (even though my desk is my favourite place in the house, since I am and always will be a true nerd). What worked with these days is:
- Finding a good working environment, with plentiful access to coffee and maybe even the odd piece of cake
- Setting clear goals for what you want to achieve that day – and checking in regularly with each other to see how it’s going
- Discussing what you’re doing at breaks – even if the subject matter is unrelated, you can always learn something about yourself and your work by talking about it.
This is all incredibly obvious but I think worth saying anyway – because often it’s the most obvious strategies that we forget to use.
Happy working everyone!