Don’t worry, this isn’t a poem. Despite working a bit with rhyming when it comes to my own spellwork, I’m not really into writing poetry on the whole. I like reading (some of) it.
I realised that I haven’t touched much on what it’s like to be doing a PhD, which I’m sure a lot of you will be familiar with. A lot of PhDs are in the science and mathematical fields, but mine is pure research and writing. Since it’s sociological, there’s no lab work. I did my interviews in LA last year and the data collection phase was over just like that. Now it’s time for the write-up and I wanted to address the physical/mental/emotional side of PhD research life.
It’s a lonely business writing a PhD thesis. I see my supervisors once or twice a month, and apart from that, I’m mostly by myself. That means that apart from the deadlines, I don’t really have anyone to be accountable to, and that makes it difficult to get sh*t done. Add into the mix a fairly difficult year health-wise and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and you’ve got a tricky mix.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all a nightmare. I love my PhD research – that’s why I’m doing it. Lots of people have suggested to me that I give it up, and I know I don’t have to finish it. Trust me. But there’s a reason I started it, a reason I chose my research subject and a reason I’m still here, trying to finish it despite a sh*tty year and, if I’m honest, often losing the will to get it done and dusted. I’m passionate about it.
But doing a PhD is not easy, and if you also work or have other projects going on, it is a LOT to manage in one lifetime. So this is my little segway into a little something I like to call:
Practical Self-Care Tips for People Who Have Way Too Much Sh*t On Their Plates
There are a lot of self-care guides for PhD researchers, and that is wonderful. But most of them say sh*t like, ‘go for a walk’ and ‘eat a healthy diet’. Those things are wonderful and super helpful in general, but when the earth feels like it’s closing in on you and you’re never, ever going to get this sh*t done, and maybe you should have become an accountant instead, or a salesperson, going for a walk is not the be-all and end-all answer.
Instead, I propose the Witchy version.
1. Acknowledge how much you have achieved already
It’s so easy to get sucked into looking only at what you need to achieve, and not what you have already ticked off your never-ending to-do list. So take a few minutes to reward yourself with a hot bath and some Me Time, and congratulate yourself on all the kickass things you have done. You are a fucking badass Witch.
2. Take a f*cking day off
It’s not a competition, everyone. If you’re like me, your list of sh*t to get done is epic, which means that you can easily spread it out over days and days, and before you know it, you’ve assigned yourself an academic book to read ON A SUNDAY. Take at least one day each week OFF. Like, off-off. Schedule nothing to do with your job, your PhD/other commitments or literally anything that feels like “should do” stuff instead of “want to do” stuff. Give yourself a day of “want to do”, even if that’s sleeping and watching reality television shows and eating chips. Cast some spells. Knit. Do whatever the f*ck you want. It’s your day.
3. Find other people who understand what you’re going through
Some people have really connected departments where all the postgraduate students know and support each other and keep in touch and have activities to do together. Some people don’t. I made some lovely friends in the first couple of years of my PhD research, and then they graduated. Because I don’t like driving 2 hours round-trip to work from my laptop in the PGR office instead of just saving the 2 hours and doing the same thing at home, I don’t really go in anymore, which means I don’t know any of the other PGRs. As a solution to this problem, I took myself to a postgraduate symposium day in another city, where I met other people researching similar things to my own research. And that not only rekindled my passion for my work, it also gave me a connection to new people who understand what it’s like to do a PhD, and to whom I could talk about this sh*t. De-isolate yourself.
4. Don’t beat yourself up
There seems to be a culture in academia of out-shaming ourselves and others. Like this whole “I should be writing” thing. Yeah, of course – we ‘should’ all be doing lots of things. But if you spend the whole day panicking about what a sh*t job you’re doing, guess what? You’re not going to write anything good, anyway, so it’s a f*cking bust all around. Be kind to yourself, FFS. Have a cup of calming tea. Drink some wine. Meditate, get some sleep, and then get up tomorrow and try again.
5. Reward yourself
I touched on this up in point 2, but this is on another level. You know how, at work, you get rewards if you do good stuff? Like promotions or pay rises or work parties or whatever? Give yourself a party. Whether that’s an actual party, or just going to dinner with your best friend, or taking a weekend to go away, or even just cooking your favourite meal and enjoying a lush bottle of wine with your partner – reward yourself. Even when you haven’t achieved the ticking off of every single item on your to-do list. Set achievable milestones for yourself that you know are possible – that way, you’re not setting yourself up to fail.
Obviously, I’m not the perfect PhD student. I’m not the perfect anything. I am better at giving advice than taking it. But these are the things I know to be true and helpful. For me, I also find my Witchcraft Practice to be a welcome relief, as well.
If there are any other Boss Witches out there on their PhD journey, I’d love to hear about it.
Have a wonderful full moon tonight!