PhD Life - one month in

PhD life - one month as a research student - A Pretty Place to Play

In the run up to quitting my job to become a student again I had this vision of what life would be like. I’d get up each day full of energy, workout at the crack of dawn, make sure my house looked on point, smash out amazing blog post and be way ahead of the curve with my research. It was the full on hyper-productive dream. I was so naive.

Change has always been a sore point for me, I find it exhausting and overwhelming. While I’d imagined I’d jump out of bed that first morning and have conquered the world by lunch, in reality I’ve been tired and sluggish with a brain that’s reluctant to engage most of the time. I’m not storming off to the library each day, often I’m staring cross eyed at some dense philosophical text not even my tutor understands wondering what on Earth I’ve let myself in for. My university doesn’t do a great deal to relieve this pressure, in fact it makes a point of reminding us at every turn how challenging the life we’ve chosen is, how hard getting a PhD is and just how much were expected to sacrifice. Of course I knew all this when I signed up, this wasn’t something I went into blind, but the reminders can get a little heavy!

Phd Life - one month as a research student - A Pretty Place to Play

On reflection I don’t think I should be remotely surprised it’s taken me some time to adapt to this new life. My mum reminded me a couple of days ago that what I’m going through is normal and not to be too hard on myself, something that Anna reiterated to me when we caught up at a shoot last week. A change like this is big, of course it’ll take time to settle, especially after 8 years in a 9 to 5 job.

At the start of all of this I had it in my head I’d only be being productive if I was pulling a full 40 hour week of focused work at my desk, and ever since I’ve been really critical of myself that that has just not happened. However, Anna gave me some really helpful advice, she explained that if I was in a more traditional role even though I’d be sat in an office 8 hours a day I wouldn’t be productive for those 8 hours, and that her rule of thumb is 3 productive hours a day is about Where you want to be. Of course there’ll be times I do more, but as a starter for 10 this feels like a good benchmark for productivity day to day.

Of course, me being me I got sick as well. My body always likes to have a physical reaction when things change, and this time it expressed its dissatisfaction in the form of a chest infection. My second this year, I spent nearly all of last week in bed unable to stand because me head felt like it was going to explode. By the end I was so bored and frustrated of it all, annoyed I’d lost a week of good study time. Although I did discover whisky works a treat as a home remedy, so sliver linings.

PhD Life - one month as a research student - A Pretty Place to Play

Transitions are never easy. There’s lots of rhetoric on the internet about how to be productive, efficient and the ultimate ‘boss’, but sometimes life comes down to allowing yourself time. I’m starting to believe change is something you need to ease through rather than attempt to take control of, and that ultimately things will come out in the wash if you let them. It could be spending the best part of a week in bed, but four weeks in and I am starting to feel more in control. I’ve got more energy and my mind is clearer. Maybe it’s the change haze lifting. Maybe I might reach my own expectations eventually.

*images: Alex Dixon Photography