I always thought summer would be a really relaxing time of the year. The students are away and there is no teaching. I assumed that I would be able to get on with my work at a nice pace and really enjoy it. How wrong I was. I came back from the GAJE/IJCLE Conference with 4 journal articles to write and a methodology summer school to prepare for. For the first time during my PhD I have actually felt stressed and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Some days I would feel really on top of things and the next I felt like crying into my coffee. I forgot this is how a PhD is composed:
I have managed to get through it. I still have two weeks left for my deadlines and I’m on track. I thought I would share a few tips on how I have managed:
1) I went for drinks with a colleague
This may seem like a very weird first tip when you have a lot of work, but this was where I started. One night after work I went for drinks with a very lovely friend and colleague (who also has an awesome blog: http://alawuntoherself.wordpress.com/) for a catch up. Elaine is an amazing academic and clinician, who manages to publish around 7 articles a year and still have a life! When I told her my worries that I wasn’t going to get all this work done in the time I had, Elaine gave me the knowing look of experience. She told me it is all about prioritising which article was the most important to me. She asked me which one I think will be most beneficial, which one involves the most research, etc. This really helped for me to know which one I should be working on the most. Then Elaine asked if I could push one back. I looked at her horrified. How could I push a publication back?! Elaine’s next words were ones which I will carry with me during the rest of my career: it only affects you. And this is very true. If I push a publication back until Christmas I’m not going to have uni asking why. The journal editor (who happens to be my supervisor) won’t be crying herself to sleep wondering how the journal will cope. It only affects me and a few months isn’t a massive set back. After this advice I felt a lot better asking my supervisor for the extension.
I guess my first tip is to share your worries and stress and to share them with someone who knows what you are going through. All jobs have their own kind of stress and it is hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it. Talking with Elaine really helped put things into perspective and have a new game plan for the summer. Sharing is caring guys!
2) Free write
This is something I had heard of but never particularly wanted to try. It panicked me to think I would write a lot, which could sound painfully stupid and take ages to edit. I normally like to really think about what I write and can take a good 5 minutes pondering over whether a word sounds right. However, I do not have time for that at the moment. Free writing is actually really great. On my first day of trying it I ended with 1,500 words. When I looked back over it I realised it didn’t sound stupid and I had some great material to work with. Free writing is a great way to get ideas off your mind and onto paper. Watching the word count continuously go up during the day gave me a real confidence boost and encouraged me to keep writing. I’ll definitely be doing it again in the future.
3) Don’t be scared to switch it up
Whilst I knew which articles should really be finished first, I was also realistic. I knew I wouldn’t sit down and bash them out one after the other. That isn’t how my brain works as I like variety (I normally order three mains from the Chinese so me and the best friend can pick at them all!). I now start my days working on one article. When I feel like I have hit a wall with it (or want to hit my head against a wall) I will move onto a different one. This way I am continuously working, so there is no guilt felt, but it means that I’m not just staring at my screen wondering where the article should go. When I go back to it I’m not sick of it and have fresh eyes. There is nothing worse than knowing that you have work to complete and not feeling like you are making any progress.
And then, when I felt like I could take no more article work for the day, I would move onto my preparations for the methodology summer school trying to figure out my theoretical underpinning and epistemology. Switching it up kept me engaged with my work, not resenting it.
4) Know when to clock off for the day
When you have a lot of work on it is so easy to work all day into the night. I thought I would have to do this. However, I have realised that this is counter-productive. You need to let your mind wind down so it can get ready for work the next day. Sitting in front of your computer all night isn’t always the best way to deal with the stress. If I do feel guilty on an evening not doing work I’ll do a little bit of reading, which has mainly been for the summer school. And I will do it with wine. Then it doesn’t feel too much like work.
5) Work with friends
This kind of relates back to my first point. Academia can be a lonely place where you have to support yourself a lot. I decided that it doesn’t always have to be like this. I had the house to myself this weekend and a fellow PhDer, Sara, who also has deadlines and a high word count came over. So we decided to make a day of it. We set camp up in my living room, stuck the radio on and worked. Every hour or so we would check with each other the progress we’d made and what we wanted to get done in the next hour. This was great! It made the working day so much more enjoyable.
When I had decided to clock off for the day (meaning no writing but some reading) and Sara wanted to continue, I left her to it. I made sure I didn’t distract her. Basically I only spoke when spoken to, unless I was offering a cup of tea! It was a really great day and the support we gave it other really helped. You don’t have to go through it alone.
I hope these little tips help! I know there will be loads more but this is what has been helping me lately.