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Tweet, Pray, Cope: The (prospective or current) PhD Student’s Guide to Surviving in the Twitterverse

My quest began one sunny afternoon in the most unlikely of places. I was sitting in my office with a long to-do list staring me in the face, while jubilant undergraduates scoured the big wide world outside and enjoyed the summer heat.

I told myself their euphoria was only the result of vitamin D intoxication, but perhaps I was simply envious because I now slept upside down in my office, like a bat, wrapped in a cocoon of crumpled research papers. Gone were the days of post-exam adventures, rolling around in the grass for hours and impromptu napping in the open at the affordable cost of only a few expendable layers of healthy skin. I wondered, not for the first time, who else out there may be having some kind of profound life evaluation, like I was, instead of making their way through very urgent work.

Unwittingly, I was already reaching for the browser icon, a plan forming in my head as my thoughts ran wild like the undergraduates recently let loose from the leash that is called ‘responsibility’. I suddenly knew what to do: I was going to see the world. I was going to scale Mt. Procrastination and seize its peak. It was time I explore. . . academic Twitter.

Come to the dark side: we have knowledge, dreams and a false sense of security

The life of a PhD Student is a roller-coaster of ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, turbulent months alternating with weeks of peace and quiet.

Kind of like the British weather.

And much like the British weather, it warrants its own separate macrocosm of discussion over tea, cake or on the Internet.

Sure enough, my first look on Twitter quickly revealed a world full of wonder, creative chaos and an occasional sense of doom (see:#phdchat, #phdlife). The heart-warming takeaway is this: whether you are a prospective or current PhD student, whether you are determined, confused or curious, there are many other smart cookies like yourself out there, just waiting to welcome you into their ranks. Just follow the trail of crumbs to @PhDForum and @AcademicChatter, the resident supportive communities discussing news, relevant issues, debates and achievements on the higher education front.

It is here that one might find out what brightens the typical PhD day (it’s usually either normally distributed data or toddler-friendly stationary that you can’t accidentally swallow) and what apocalyptic calamity might send a man or woman into despair (running out of chores to be done in lieu of writing your dissertation).

It was surprisingly uplifting to hang out in this ‘area’ of the web space, actually. A scroll through the relevant feeds revealed many inspirational voices, pictures of ‘PhD survivors’ holding their completed theses, and posts encouraging me to persevere and stay positive. I thought, despite the debatable benefit of the social media in young people’s lives, that this really was (is) a good way to create a sense of belonging by listening and being heard without any additional commitments.

Nodding goodbye to these channels, I moved on to see what else was out there (with the cheers of pesky exam-free students continuing to resonate outside my window).

Hear me moan. . . I mean, ROAR!

Next, I ground to a halt in front of the very obvious - @AcademicPain and @AcaGrumbles.

Why, you ask?

Because we research students. . . we grumble. We moan. In fact, this part of Twitter was impossible to miss. The mighty wail, arcing up through the social media could be heard from miles away, asking fellow postgrads to join in until the sky split asunder. . . or an annoyed supervisor popped their head in to tell us to shut up.

I had a few chuckles on those channels, as I related to the common problems shared by fellow PhD’s, and was relieved to be able to laugh about them. These are definitely great places to rant a little and hear others do the same.

…Discovering the dark underbelly of research

Further down the road, I came across #phdweekend. The origins of this term are unknown, but many have speculated that it was coined as far back as the creation of the universe.

The academic community is still rather divided on the matter, and both optimistic and pessimistic posts may be found on the topic of researching on Saturday or Sunday. The reality is that you will almost certainly have to do it at some point during your PhD to stay on top of work or simply to find a moment when the lab equipment is not in use. When you do, it’ll be good to know you aren’t alone Strength in numbers and all that.

Note: If you have the soul of a poet and firmly believe every thought spinning inside your head is a diamond, you should consider writing a PhD haiku. In the solitude of your empty department on a Saturday morning, it may well be the very form of self-expression to get you through the day.

Keep calm and write your thesis

Steadily, I was making my way across the map, conquering hills of wisdom and pits full of deadly feedback until I reached my final destination. Exhausted, I planted my crayon-drawn flag here and took a look around.

The time will come (if it hasn’t already) when your PhD will no longer focus solely on collecting data, wondering aloud ‘What does this button do?’ or alternating between pleading and brute force as you negotiate with your computer. . .

Eventually, you are going to have to actually write your thesis.

No, no! Not so fast. I see you trying to make a rapid retreat. Understandable, but unfortunately no longer an option. You are in too deep and all the evacuation exits have been sealed shut. Do not despair, though, as the rescue team is underway.

A useful source of information, advice and sympathy that can help you stay motivated and on top of your writing is @WriteThatPhD. Here, you can find frequent posts featuring materials, suggestions and tools to get you through the labyrinth of panic and procrastination – soon, you will be flirting with your thesis, and it will be flirting back.

Or, if you are looking for something more lengthy and personal, refer to @thesiswhisperer and, in particular, her blog which offers tips, thoughts and guidance on various PhD-related topics, with a touch of personal experience, explanations of effective strategies, and recommendations of reputable sources to investigate.

Adult like a pro: all day, every day

Finally, you are no self-respecting PhD student if you haven’t visited @PHDComics at least once. Because we are all adults and life only makes sense when shown in the form of silly cartoons. You’re welcome.

As for me, I’m off back to my lab – but perhaps I’ll see you on Twitter?




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