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Posted on 25 Aug '22

Finding the Fun in a PhD

So, you’ve found yourself staring down the barrel of a three or potentially even a four-year (gasp) PhD and the light at the end of the tunnel seems a very long way away indeed.

Perhaps you find yourself wondering how well your sanity will fare on a non-stop diet of pure mathematics or the intricacies of Chaucer.

Well, fear not! I am here to tell you that not only can you achieve your noble dream of selecting Dr on the dropdown box of every online form, you can have a great time doing it.

Here are five things that will put the spring back in the step of your PhD:

#1 Find joy in the little victories

I know it’s been said a thousand times but brace yourself because I’m going to say it again: PhDs are tough, unforgiving rotters that do their level best to hand you nothing but a seemingly endless stream of failures.

However, once in a blue moon yours will take pity on you and pass you a little nugget of success. Take it from me, these are the moments you need to remember, so don’t let that clean band on a protein gel go by without celebration (preferably with a parade, and maybe some fireworks, whatever your budget can handle).

If you can do this, all those failures won’t seem like such a big deal, rather just the preparation for your next big win.

#2 Rein in the all-nighters

I think it goes without saying that PhDs are not 9-5 and that yes, like that embittered post-doc told you, you will occasionally end up sitting at your computer / lab bench long after the most fanatical cleaner has called it a night.

Perhaps then, you’ve started to think that this is normal, that every day should be wrung out for every usable hour. After all, you think to yourself, how else can I hope to accomplish this impossible task I’ve set for myself, as you clutch your knees to your chest and rock quietly to and fro.

This simply isn’t true. Not only is it almost guaranteed that no matter how many hours you pour into it, your PhD is going to leave questions unanswered, but the number of errors you’ll start making in your sleep deprived state will leave you feeling like Trump after a visit to Buckingham Palace.

This begins a vicious cycle where you feel you’re never doing enough while the chronic lack of sleep contributes to those thoughts best left for Eeyore.

Not only this but if you spend all your time working you won’t have any time to . . .

#3 Keep up your hobbies

Now, no one is pretending that your PhD is not your greatest love, of course it is. Even after four unforgiving years, filled with blood, sweat and tears you’ll still have that wistful smile cross your lips when you think about it.

But, as the old saying goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, and sometimes you just need to take a break just for a little while. So, it’s good to keep those other flames alight.

Whether it’s collecting china dolls or banzai skydiving, keep doing that thing that puts a smile on your face. It can help wash away the blues as well as take your mind off the latest intractable puzzle that your chosen vocation has lumped you with.

#4 Failure can be funny

There will probably be times during your PhD when you will do something so monumentally foolish, you’ll have no choice but to laugh (or sit seething with impotent rage). Having tried both, I would advise against the latter).

Be it accidently dumping the entire contents of your week-long protein prep down the sink or presenting a poster at a conference that contains an unmissable spelling error in the title, these mistakes can happen to anyone (although in this case they did both happen to me).

While you may not be inclined to see these things as funny to begin with, there’s often nothing that can be done to fix them – at least it’ll make for a good story in the pub later.

#5 Remember you chose this

Okay, that came out wrong. Please put down the pitchforks, setting light to my chair isn’t helping anyone and can I please have my keyboard back?

What I’m saying is that you chose this topic because it interested you enough for you to invest years in researching it.

It’s worth occasionally remembering what it was that drew you in and looking at how far you’ve come, because no matter how bad you think it’s been, I’m willing to bet you’ve achieved more than you think.

Closing Remarks

So, that’s it for my unsolicited advice. I hope some of this proves helpful if you ever find yourself doubting whether a PhD was a good idea.

Just remember learning can be fun! *

*Disclaimer: individual experiences may vary.




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Last Updated: 25 August 2022