The PhD Cycle

So, if the PhD is a process made up of initiating and ‘hopefully’ completing smaller tasks then it is reasonable to expect that this process will have an emotional impact depending on which stage you are at and the outcome of your current task. And this is perfectly normal.

PhD Cycles

The diagram tries to show that everything in the PhD cycle involves thinking and writing about your PhD and within that overall cycle there is a smaller process of initiating, scoping, focus forming, implementing, completing and reviewing tasks. At each of these stages there may be a vast variety of emotions involved.

There are some things which you can do to try to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive.

  • Use SMART goals to help you to manage your work load. These are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based. If you put goals in place which follow this formula then you are more likely to succeed and feel less afraid of the marathon task ahead of you.
  • Remember to review outcomes of different tasks. It is all too easy to rush from task to tasks without taking the time to review. The value of this is in seeing what you can learn for next time and celebrating success.
  • Read my previous post about time management

Do you ever feel like a fraud?

One of the things that I hear from a lot of PhD students at the beginning of their PhD is that they feel like a fraud, they aren’t sure why they got accepted to the PhD and the don’t know what steps to take in order to make progress with their project.

Well….this is perfectly normal and I wish it was something that I could tell people about before they started.

The reason you feel like a fraud is that you’ve probably come from being near the top of your class to the bottom rung of the research ladder. But thats just the point, its a ladder and you have to start somewhere. You aren’t meant to know all of the answers, otherwise you would be in your supervisor’s shoes. And I’ll let you into a little secret…they don’t know ALL of the answers either, though they probably know a lot of them.

You were accepted to do the PhD because the project is of interest to your area of research, otherwise they wouldn’t have let you start it. And don’t forget that your first year report is when you really get to show what you’re talking about by demonstrating  

•What methodology are you using and why?
•What have you done so far?
•What have you learnt?
•What has worked, what hasn’t worked, and why?
•What will you do next?
 This is also your examiner’s opportunity to let you know if you need to make changes that will help you to get a good enough project and thesis. (And I use the phrase ‘good enough’ here on purpose because you will never feel like what you have done is perfect!)
In terms of knowing what steps to take next – speak to your peers, colleagues and supervisor and if in doubt, look at the IAD website for some ideas.

Procrastination and getting yourself un-stuck

The feeling of not wanting to do what you’re supposed to be doing can be an overwhelming thing and I can’t help but be struck by the irony of writing this post to help myself move past my current bout of procrastination.

But do not fear, there are always things that you can do. One that I recently discovered was the pomodoro technique. What you do is set a timer for 25 minutes and do focused work while the timer counts down. At the end of the 25 minutes you take a 5 minute break. Then after 4 segments take a 15 minute break. I used it while studying at the weekend and powered throug 2 hours with no problem at all.

Something else I have come across recently but I’m a teeny bit afraid to try is Write or Die which gives you consequences when you stop writing. This one I think would be particularly useful for bashing out ideas in a first draft. You download an app, set a word or time goal and the start typing. If you stop typing for a certain length of time the app will enforce the consequence, for example, start to delete your work  line by line…eeek!

When I was an undergraduate I attended a procrastination workshop and the most important message that I took away from that is that if you can identify what it is about a task that causes you to procrastinate then the easier it is to move past. For me its reading. I would much rather be doing pretty much anything but reading so over the past few years I have developed some small techniques to help me to get through that stage and onto the bits that I like. So I take notes while I’m reading – that tricks me into thinking that I’m writing rather than reading. And I read in small chunks of time so that I know it will be over soon.

And as this post demonstrates, you can always overcome procrastination by doing something related to your work that you enjoy and which will give you another way of thinking about things, be that writing a blog post, looking for relevant material on twitter, reading something in your field or whatever.