Tuesday, 21 May 2013

It's good to talk

So I may be borrowing a known slogan, but today, I want to discuss how good talking can be for you as a PhD student.

Much of this post is based on my experiences over the last few months.  As you'll know, it's not been the best time PhD wise.  We all go through these stages.  I can promise you, that when you start a PhD, at least  one person will tell you "Oh you're going to hate second year" or some other portion of time of your PhD that you can in no way avoid.  I'm not going to reiterate that message, I just want to throw out some ideas of what you might be able to do if you do find yourself hating your PhD.

And, if the title wasn't enough of a clue, most of my suggestions revolve around talking.

Don't be scared.

The first group I'd suggest you chat with are your peers.  There can be a lot of healthy competition (sometimes a little contention) between your peer group during a PhD.  One person gets a publication or a conference talk, another finished collecting their data while you're still finishing your first experiment.  That's always going to be going on.  But hopefully, there's at least one other PhD student within your department who you can talk to about how you're feeling.

Because guess what?  It's okay to hate your PhD sometimes.  (Not all the time.  If it's all the time, I would really suggest looking into other options...)

Your peers are some of the best people to talk to because they will have experienced what you're feeling too.  The apathy, the general frustration.  Even if they haven't got there yet, they can understand the basis of your complaints as someone with a similar experience frame.  If you don't have anyone in your department, try reaching out to friends doing PhDs in different universities or departments.  Have a chat over a coffee, a pint or an ice cream (or all three, why not?) and just get it out.  Then, when they're feeling frustrated, you can return the favour.

I wouldn't recommend just talking to your peers though.  I would suggest you speak to your supervisor too.  Now, before you get all "Oh hell no!" on me, hear me out.

Obviously, it depends on your relationship with your supervisor, but my recent experience taught me this is something you should really do.  How did I learn this?  Because I didn't do it and now realise that was really dumb.

Instead of taking my frustrations to my supervisor, my loss of confidence, my lack of a sense of direction or conviction, my general hatred of all things research, I took a holiday and disappeared for a while.  Now, while that was okay, it left some really big gaps.

My supervisor was concerned about me, having noticed these things (because guess what, your supervisor is quite clever), but didn't want to push me if I wasn't ready to talk about it.  I knew that he knew, because I'm not an idiot either.  

What stopped me then?  Fear, mostly.  Fear it would be a girly thing to do, to go whine about a PhD.  Fear of showing weakness.  Fear it would make me look incompetent, unintelligent or unable to cope with the pressures of a PhD studentship.  Fear it would result in my supervisor losing respect for me.

When I met with my supervisor yesterday and we actually started having a discussion about all this, it all came out anyway.  And we were able to sort some things out and just have a really good communication.  And I wished I had done it sooner.

It can be difficult to talk to people, for all these reasons.  But if you're stressed out, I'd really advise it.  How else are you going to tackle it?  From a brief stint working in psychological therapies, I can promise you bottling it up is the wrong way to go.  And don't worry about those people who seem to have it all together without a care in the world.  They're stressing out too.  We all do.  

It's okay to worry, and it's good to talk about it.  

That's my two cents ;)

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