1. When you gather your data together it never looks like much
I feel like I can work super hard, spend long hours in the lab running experiments and then when the time comes for me to gather that data together to show my supervisor it looks like…*drumroll*…‘nothing’! Several weeks worth of work can sometimes culminate in a single graph. That graph doesn’t show the time spent fixing a problem with experimental design, waiting for a machine to be fixed, collecting difficult samples, the mandatory course you had to attend, the demonstrating you did, reading and planning in preparation for another project you’re working on…you get the idea!
Sometimes, if the weight of doing or achieving ‘enough’ (whatever that means) is pressing down on me I write lists of the things I do each day. Each email I’ve sent, each paper I’ve read, each academic conversation/meeting I’ve had etc… It helps me to see that although I might not have achieved as much toward the completion of a particular project as I feel I ‘should’ have I can physically see the list of all the other stuff I’ve had to do.
2. It pays to be honest
I think recognising moments when I need help has developed over time, and figuring out what kind of help I need and how to ask for it has come over even more time…and practice! Having said that, I still don’t find it easy.
Having developed M.E. about 3 years ago I consider being honest a matter of PhD survival! I can’t push through, I can’t overwork for a couple of months with the promise of a holiday at the end and I can’t continually say yes to things without it affecting my health. I’ve had to become more honest with my supervisor about when I need a day (or three) to work from home, when I need to postpone an experiment, when I need to scale back on my commitments and when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed so he can help me figure out how to fix that. Prolonged stress is definitely a relapse trigger for me and isn’t good for you anyway! You don’t need to have a chronic illness to be deserving of a helping hand and some advice when things are fraying at the edges!
3. It’s a good time to get out of my comfort zone
This, in it’s very nature is obviously pretty uncomfortable, but I’ve found the first year of my PhD great for trying new things. I try to get in amongst the thick of it as much as my introvert personality will allow! I accept all the talks I get offered, I apply for conferences, I attend networking events and I try to engage in conversations with ‘strangers’ in a vague attempt to build connections but mostly to learn how to ‘do academic chat’. As I’m still early in my PhD career people aren’t really interested in collaborating with me yet, but they might be some day and when they are I’d like to be a little bit better at engaging with them. I feel like the PhD is the perfect time to make mistakes, I mean I’m still training and I’m still finding my feet so I’m allowed to give a bad talk or make a rubbish poster, right?...Right?!!!