Monday, 19 May 2014

I love a list

Some of the things I have learnt from doing a PhD include:

-       That we are all stronger than we think, and have reserves of strength we didn’t even know about. There is no PhD thesis so terrible that it will defeat me.

-       That seemingly useless things, and experiences, may one day come in handy in surprising ways – they may bring with them job opportunities, travel possibilities, friendships, new recipes, ideas that you would not otherwise have got.

-       That you should always be nice to yourself, tell yourself kind things, forgive yourself for your weaknesses (hell, even try to love your weaknesses if you can), and do something fun for yourself every day, because it turns out your life is happening right now; don’t put off living.

-       That the person with the really clean house is not necessarily a ‘clean’ person. Take a step back before you jump to conclusions. Maybe he or she is actually procrastinating on something else, and cleans the house to avoid something. Maybe he or she is a PhD student.

-       That you should never fixate too much on ‘hating your PhD’, but instead treat it with compassion; because chances are, had you made a different life choice you would perhaps have found a way of hating that in exactly the same way, too. Because maybe it’s not the PhD, but the dormant qualities it awakens in you (perfectionism, dislike of criticism, tendency towards self-pity, fear of ‘failure’.) I say this with love, because I’ve been there too.

-       That the minute you are free from the PhD, you may well find yourself procrastinating on something else if you’re not careful. Even if it’s something you’ve spent your entire PhD life fantasizing about. The Procrastination Bible is for life, not just for Christmas (and for PhD). The tomato technique, likewise, is forever. You may think you won’t need them anymore, but you may do well to keep them in mind for the next stage of your journey. They are your friends.

Right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try and fulfil that lifelong career dream that I’ve been procrastinating on for the last six months. (Maybe if I start with just one tomato today, and take it from there…)


  1. Haha I love your blog and I literally found it by googling "i hate my PhD". I'm in the 4th year of mine... been trying to write and procrastinating for a whole year and it's just not getting better. I know there's no simple answer, but what would you say would be the best couple of pieces of advice for being able to beat procrastination and 'imposter syndrome', and just get on with it? I have tried alot of things... nothing has really encouraged me to get my s$%t together very effectively yet! Thanks :)

  2. Right. So here are the best pieces of advice that helped me:

    - ‘Your examiners will think your PhD is fine. It’s fine as it is right now. Start shutting it down, making it smaller instead of bigger. Stop following up new avenues of research. Print everything it off and put it in a ring binder. Start correcting the physical draft on the page before you.’ (from a friend. cf. blog post ‘Words of Wisdom’, March 2013).

    - ‘Think of it as something that has been written by someone else. You would not say to your friend ‘This is rubbish and needs rewriting’. You would say ‘yeah, just change this, add one or two bits and then I think it’s OK.’ Your PhD does not define you in any way, it does not reveal anything about you. And to be honest, only two people will read it. (ibid)

    - ‘You must exercise, play, or dance for at least one hour a day’ (Neil Fiore, from the procrastination book). Schedule in fun things to do every day, and commit to them. This removes the whole ‘I have left all day free to work, and now I have this long boring day staring me in the face. I’ll just go clean under the oven and wander around the flat for seven hours…’

    - ‘You’re an excellent person, an excellent student, and will produce an excellent thesis’ (from a friendly academic, in the last dark months of self-doubt)

    - ‘It is better to work three hours a day every day, than to work 9 hours one day and do nothing the next’ (advice from a Graduate School Guru)

    - Don’t worry about finishing; keep on starting. Your task, every day, is to get to the starting place on time. When you find yourself thinking that you’ll never finish, ask yourself ‘When can I next start?’ (Neil Fiore.)

    - and finally, ‘Go swimming, and go to yoga’. (This from my Mama. When I complained that I don’t have time for such things, because I ‘have to work’, she yelled at me. ‘Do you want to work, or do you want to be young and attractive for a bit longer?’ I bow down before her superior reasoning.)

    - What I think all this adds up to is that this PhD business isn’t as important as we all think. Get it done, send it off. Really, your examiners will think it's fine, and you are writing it for their eyes only. What’s more important than writing the ‘perfect’ PhD thesis is getting yourself down to the gym every day, having dinners with your friends, and making room for fun things; because, you see, those are the bits you'll remember post-PhD. Make them goooooood. Voilà!