One emotion that all PhD students, regardless of discipline will be familiar with is “The Panic”. Or the feeling of impending doom that for once in your life you may actually fail something. Coupled with a continuous sense of anxiety that (a) you don’t know what you trying to find out, (b) you might not find it and (c) three years will go by, you will have nothing to show for it and all your friends and family will cast you a massive failure.

When coping with the panic I think there are two types of Phd Student. The shirker and the diver. The diver is the kind of PhD student who storms above the rest. They take the constant state of panic and use it to drive themselves further. They are never happy with their current position and are constantly driving and improving. The diver, so called because they dive head first into all situations giving 110% at all times, is in constant competition with themselves and has published 3 Phd papers quicker than you can say ‘I think I need a supervisors meeting’

Then there is the shirker. Faced with the feeling of doom the shirker would rather just find a quiet corner, curl up and will it all too just go away. Rather than facing the panic head on, the shirker waits until the last minute, dithers on decision making and constantly finds distractions rather than just pulling their thumb out and getting on with it.

I myself, I tend to fall into this latter category. I am constantly making excuses as to why I havn’t done certain things and will spend hours on the things I am good at, rather than dedicating extra time to the things I know I need to improve.

But half way along this learning curve we like to call a PhD course here are some things I have learnt and would like to share.

(1)    Surround yourself with other divers. While their confidence will probably make you feel inadequate, this inadequacy allows the panic to reach the critical point. Like dynamite, the panic will force you out of your little corner, making you do all the things you so far have put off.

(2)    Prevention is better than a cure. When you’re thinking of research questions, start by thinking about the answers and what you already know and think about the issues. Then read up and write simultaneously. What I often do is get so bogged down in one, tiny little topic that I fail to see the bigger picture, so constantly writing helps keep things in perspective, so too does the next point:

(3)    Exercise and Time Out. Yoga, Swimming, Running – any activity which lets your mind wander. It’s in these moments when you’re just by yourself doing a repetitive task that the light bulb moments come and you start to feel better about everything again. So too does time completely away from your Phd. When you’re ferreting away on little things they can seem so significant, then when you come away from them you realise you have largely been wasting your time.

(4)    When the going is good, don’t rest on your laurels too much. When the light bulb moment comes and you start to feel good about your research again it can be an easy excuse to take a little extended rest. While this is important, be careful, before you know it a month has past, you have lost touch with what you are doing and the panic is starting to set in again. Try to keep up a consistent effort and if you are feeling too good – go back to stage one.

    Anyone else have any strategies they would like to share?


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