Enjoying your PhD…?!

Going back into my desk at uni in January felt a little sad this year. The PhD student who has sat at the desk next to me for the last few years, is close to submitting and has moved interstate to take up some exciting work (and lifestyle) opportunities. I’ll miss her a lot; having a truly sympathetic, wise, funny, generous and supportive peer has been invaluable to help me navigate the many confusing and stressful times of the PhD experience. It’s also been wonderful to laugh at the absurdities, and celebrate the big and small achievements along the way.

In her farewell email, one of the pieces of advice she gave fellow PhD students was to be sure to enjoy it. My initial thoughts were: ‘impossible!’, ‘absurd!’; probably because I ended last year having worked myself into quite a state of anxiety about how the hell I will be able finish my data collection, analysis and write up in less than a year after which time my scholarship finishes (and if not how I will find ‘proper’ work and finish it etc etc), which, when I think about it, is exactly the kind of state of mind I in at the end of the previous year!

CC, Werwin15 @ flickr

CC, Werwin15 @ flickr

Even prior to the end of the year, enjoyment is not a word I would use to describe my PhD experience – in fact it’s probably one of the last words I would use. Indeed words that immediately spring to mind if I were to describe my phd are: stressful, confusing, perplexing, challenging, isolating, hard, and, perhaps occasionally a little demoralising. This is a bit sad, if not entirely surprising given my anxiety disorder; I tend to fixate on the negative and less enjoyable things.

However, it reality my PhD has been quite wonderful in many regards; I ended the year winning the Best Student Paper at a major conference (surprising and thrilling!) and after a ridiculously long time I submitted a systematic review to a journal. I also successfully ran a series of participatory design workshops. It’s challenged me and shown me the value of persistence. I really have loved learning and love the fact that my research has the potential to make a real difference to young people’s experience and their relationship with their General Practitioner. I have supervisors who are generally pretty awesome too which I am very thankful for, not to mention the the support of my PhD peers. Unfortunately I just don’t tend to give these positives much thought (too busy focusing on the negative stuff) .

Interestingly, over the summer I did a major clean out of my flat and found a list of my signature strengths. Signature strength is a concept from positive psychology, individual skills or talents that facilitate a sense of happiness and flourishing. Mine are: humour and playfulness; gratitude; love of learning; social intelligence; and honesty, authenticity, and genuineness.

I’m not naive enough to think that I can banish my anxiety and negative ruminations. However, I will commit to trying to have a more balanced outlook, and perhaps ensure I incorporate my signature strengths into my research where possible.

So here’s to a year of moments of JOY!

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