Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The end of the PhD

My PhD has been printed off, handed in, examined, corrected, printed off again in hardbound form, signed off, handed back in and I have graduated. AT LAST!!! This is my last post about the PhD (I think!) and goes through some coping mechanisms I developed at the end when I was juggling finishing off with a full time job...

Me and my younger sister at my graduation

The end of the PhD was hard work. It's a long, time consuming process that I have mentioned previously. I'm currently working as a project officer in public engagement with research, my job involves evenings, weekends and general odd hours. Juggling both the job and the PhD was a bit tricky at times, but just about manageable. I had to allocate work, PhD and free time effectively and stop doing a number of things that I enjoy. I haven't spoken to friends or family as much as I wanted to. Finding time to write blogs that required research was tricky as I just didn't have the time. There were a number of sunny weekends when I was stuck at my computer when I wanted to be outside.

I didn't give up everything I enjoyed though and actually this transition time between PhD and work allowed me to pick up a few new activities that helped me switch my mind off, replenish my thoughts and get some sleep. These, I think, have helped me focus a bit more and get me finished up.

For when I just couldn't switch my mind off 
I started lurking around on youtube late at night (as you do) to help me chill out and calm down as quite often my mind was whizzing. I ended up watching something called ASMR videos ... which stands for 'autonomous sensory meridian response' (I don't think it needs this overtly medical sounding terminology but it does help you find the videos on youtube). Basically, people talk about mundane things and make noises by tapping nails and crinkling wrappers. Don't just judge me... watch this video and tell me you don't feel sleepy! 

To get me outside and away from a computer
Gardening. I put my name down for an allotment (a patch of land to grow things on) with the local council when I started my PhD and 3 years later in Feb 2013 I got my own patch. It's been a great way to get outside and tire myself physically out (digging is hard work!). Even before the allotment I had been growing things in tubs in my yard and on my drive. Not having an allotment doesn't stop you from getting outside and growing!

To help me keep connected with friends and family despite lots of them being 500 miles away
I've had less time to travel so thanks to the wonders of technology I spoke to friends and family more using Facetime and Skype. It made me feel a bit less guilty about not seeing people. It helped me to schedule in time to call people rather than just calling on a whim. That way people didn't interrupt me when I was working hard and I didn't waste my downtime by ringing people who were busy. 

Planning for the future 
Having a focus for post-PhD life was also quite helpful. I've got quite a nice one as I am getting married next year.. BUT the temptation to spend all of my time planning a wedding rather than finishing up was all too tempting.. so I limited my planning for stages when I couldn't really do much to my PhD (like after I had handed in the first time and I was waiting for my first viva date). Having a positive focus such as a holiday/trip/event ANYTHING for life post PhD is great to think about when the end seems so far away. 

Mad Men 
I had to limit my TV viewing but there are a few guilty pleasure TV programmes that I did give myself chill out time to watch. One of which is Mad Men. It makes me happy. *spoiler alert*


Peggy Olson accidentally stabbing her boyfriend with a makeshift bayonet and then getting dumped in the ambulance was one of THE GREATEST things I have ever watched on T.V. 

Skeptics in the Pub
I am still co-organising and running SITP in Aberdeen with Sonia. It's an enjoyable social event and gives at least an hour and a half welcome distraction from my PhD. It only runs once a month so the time investment was relatively low.. although attending one the night before my viva may have made me a little bit more stressed than I needed to be (and I can't remember anything at all about that talk).

Things I avoided 
There are a large list of things that I tried to avoid. I sometimes failed but quite often these activities distracted me and rather than making me focus more got me a bit stressed out about other things.. these included (but were by no means limited to) BBC news, Twitter, The Daily Mail website, Candy Crush Saga and Heat magazine. I love twitter but sometimes when you need to concentrate hard on one thing it's best to just keep away. 

I don't know if anyone has any other suggestions for the end of the PhD to share. Please do. I imagine knitting is quite relaxing. I tried that for a period of time but I was rubbish at it. It seems that I went into my PhD as a young person who enjoyed festivals, travelling, going to gigs (I haven't been to a gig in what seems like a lifetime) to one that is quite happy pottering about an allotment with strawberries and attempting knitting.... 

And now, post PhD, I feel mostly relaxed. I was initially exhausted. Really exhausted. It took me a month or so before I started feeling like 'me' again (yes really). I slept and caught up with friends. Now my mind is wandering to what I can do with all the time I have 'free'..... and what to do with my blog! 

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