If I could give one piece of advice (part 1)

A couple of weeks ago (when I started writing this post, it was “last week”…), I posed a question on Twitter:

If you could give one piece of advice to a new PhD student, what would it be?

You see, I’d already decided what my advice would be, and I was really interested to hear what other people thought. I had more replies than I expected! Thank you @OKLibrarian, @BVLSingler, @Peter_Tennant, @LaurenKnifton, @StinaMary, @Bohr_research, @evalantsoght, @JessicaMcdnld, @DrHelenKara, and @AmandaMichelle for your responses.

Answers fell into two main categories:
1) Health, wellbeing, and support
2) Writing advice

In this post, I’ll share the health, wellbeing, and support replies. Why? If years of watching Neighbours taught me anything, it’s that people love a cliffhanger. No, really it’s just that it’d be far too long a post. I’ll share the writing advice in a later post.

Health, wellbeing, and support

In the competitive world of academia, it often seems like working all hours is a badge of honour. Indeed, of those who do work constantly, it seems a further boast to not be achieving what was hoped for. PhD stress duelling is no joke. As such, I was greatly encouraged to read tweets advising new students to take care of themselves:

“Remember to put yourself first. You can’t finish the PhD if you’re not well – in all realms”

“don’t work weekends. Time off is just as important as time in the office/lab.”

Heed these tweets. You can exist without your PhD, but it cannot exist without you. Be kind to yourself. If you consistently overwork yourself, you will end up having a longer, more difficult recovery than if you treat yourself well throughout the PhD. Yes, this may seem unnatural, in the face of the Great Postgraduate Stress Competition (GPGSC?!), but it is better for you.

Equally pleasing were tweets recommending that students develop a good support network:

“Find someone that you can talk to when you are ‘down’ . If possible someone in the same situation”

“Make & Keep phd & non-phd friends. Make time for them. This will keep you sane(r)”

A PhD can be lonely at times. Those not doing a PhD can sympathise, but may not understand, and it can seem hard to discuss successes and failures with someone in the same position as you.
But try. I’ve been delighted by friends’ and peers’ responses to both.
The final tweet in this section embodies one of my life philosophies:

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help: the only stupid question is the one that doesn’t get asked.”

I have always been THAT PERSON, academically and socially. I really like to understand things, and would much rather ask the question than nod along and be caught out later. I was new to Clinical Psychology when I started my PhD, but this just gave me a reason to voice the questions that everyone else seemed to be wondering. It was easy to be the “stupid” one, because there were lower expectations for me.

Do you have any advice for those who may be starting their PhDs? Let me know in the comments section, or on Twitter (I’m @ellenspaeth). Happy researching and writing!


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