Leonie Schittenhelm

PhDs and how to survive them

By Leonie Schittenhelm

Research, my dear readers, is hard. It just is. Some parts are hard because no one has ever done them before, some other parts are hard because everyone constantly does them but they still won’t work in your hands. Sometimes things are hard because you’re dependent on other people, but they’re really really busy right now, and some other things are hard because you spend too much time on your own, staring into the depths of your data analysis. There’s a million different things that can be hard, and they might be very specific to your research. Luckily for all of us, the things that make the hard stuff a bit easier actually seem pretty universal: Eat right, sleep right and don’t forget to hang out with the people you love. While those are clearly the most important to stay healthy and resilient even in the face of adversity, here are some other ideas what to do when you get into a rut about your research.

  1. Pet something fluffy – I know having pets isn’t always feasible for busy PhD students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit that friend with a cat more than all of your other friends. And if you’re too shy to ask complete strangers in the park if you could possibly cuddle their dog for a tiny bit, maybe this video about fluffy robot seals will cheer you up a bit?
  2. Get out into nature – especially after spending a couple of days in a darkened room with a microscope, there is nothing better than having a sandwich in the sunshine, with some birds chirping in the background. And why not take advantage of Newcastle’s unique location and take the metro to the beach after a long day in the lab?
  3. Change your point of view – Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery. Need to do a lot of reading but have been stuck in the office all week? Maybe take your computer to one of the libraries around campus or work in a coffee shop for a couple of hours. The same applies to all other points of view: speaking to people outside of science or even just outside of your field can provide some much-needed perspective.
  4. Volunteer – Okay, this is a hard one – I mean, who has the time? But sometimes, it helps to have a reminder of who your research is actually for. A friend of mine researches Alzheimers disease and her biweekly board game nights with some residents of an old peoples home is just the thing to get her inspired again – maybe there’s something you always wanted to try?
  5. Take care of each other – Not surprising, but the people you do your PhD alongside with can provide a huge amount of understanding and support. Because who understands the struggles of being a researcher better than another researcher, right? But for this support system to work and not be a source of even more stress, you actually need to put in some work as well – being honest about your own daily struggles, encouraging each other to be healthy and take well-deserved breaks and not engaging in the one-upping culture of who worked the most hours this week can go a long way.

Do you have any more ideas for stress relief that you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

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