Hi PhD Phrends, how are you all? Sorry for the radio silence over the last couple of weeks. There have been a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I have been doing a bit of teaching 3 days a week and it is knackering! How do people do this every day? The teaching (lab demonstrating really) is pretty effective therapy as it forces me up and out of bed, into my clothes and out of the house to interact with people on a daily basis. Also, y’know, money because there’s no sick pay for PhDers. I’ve also been busy with some exciting meetings that I’ll tell you a bit about, and some less exciting freaking out, soul searching and hiding in my bed. Happy things first!
Ac-centuate the positive! I have been thinking quite a lot recently about the future of this blog and what I would like to achieve through it. I even came close to shutting the whole thing down a couple of times but then I thought about all of the positive aspects of the community that is being built and the attention that we have brought to the serious issue of mental health in academia. We need you to add your stories about your PhD and mental health experiences to our ever growing collection to help students who are struggling understand that they are not alone.I have had a couple of really interesting meeting over the past few weeks. The first was to talk about ways in which students with mental health issues could be better supported within my own department. The second was with two lovely ladies from the Student Rep Council and the postgraduate club at an unnamed university. We had a great and really exciting chat about a whole range of initiatives aimed at improving PhD student mental health and providing access to resources for those who are finding things difficult. Stay tuned to find out about the range of activities coming soon to the University of <redacted>. Lunchtime walks, knitting groups, coffee and a moan, mindfulness, yoga, group counselling….we’ve got it all!
(I didn’t have any relevant pictures to illustrate this post but here is some festive holly that I saw on my walk the other day.)
What’s in a name? You may have already noticed some changes around the place. A couple of conversations that I’ve had recently have forced me to think carefully about this blog and its potential to upset or harm people. Obviously I never ever set out to bad-mouth or offend anyone. I have tried to share my experience openly in such a way that might help other students who may be going through similar experiences in the hope of bringing something positive out of my own time off. However, I have made the decision to remove any identifiers of myself and where I work, along with a couple of the more personal posts that I put up. It’s probably still possible to do a bit of googling and work out who I am and were I work (because it’s the internet) but please don’t do that? This has been completely my own decision so don’t worry, I’m not in big trouble or anything.
Pride comes before a fall. I need to confess to you all that I feel like a bit of a fraud. After last week’s victory rant about how I am going to overcome my difficulties and win at getting a PhD, I’m now seriously considering getting a job in a coffee shop. That’s the way it goes with depression. You can feel like you’re recovering in leaps and bounds and then the littlest thing can set you back months. I want to be better so badly that when I start to feel a bit brighter, my brain thinks “WHOOPPEEE I’M COMPLETELY RECOVERED!”, making it all the harder to cope with a set back like the one I have experienced over the last couple of weeks. Things have got so bad that the thought of returning to work, or even going back into the the building, makes me feel physically sick. I guess that’s why it says depression and anxiety on my medical certificate. I feel like the longer I spend away from my PhD, the less and less likely it is that I will return to it. I know that pretty much every student goes through the “I might just pack it in” stage (oh look, something else we don’t really talk about) but maybe right now this situation and this project are just not right for me and my long-term health.
So what next? I have no idea. And that’s pretty scary. Maybe all of my problems will be sorted out by a couple of slightly uncomfortable conversations and I’ll feel much better and start thinking about the possibility of returning to my PhD. Maybe I won’t be able to face ever going back to my project. Maybe I’ll do something completely different. Maybe I could do lab work. Or do a Masters in Stratified Medicine. Maybe somebody would like to employ me as a public engagement research assistant (???). Maybe I’ll have to go back to being a barista to pay the rent. Who knows? Right now, I feel like I have no qualifications and no future. In a fit of decisiveness, I decided to make a list of my life goals. This is difficult for me as I subscribe to the philosophy that there is no real point in making plans as we are basically just ants running about on the surface of the planet, finding things to keep us busy until we die, but here’s what I came up with:
Will doing a PhD bring me closer to my number 1 life goal of being a dog owner? Nope. It would just make me a very over qualified Dr Dog Owner. (I should probably explain that our roof has been “fixed” twice and still leaks when it rains. Getting it fixed would seriously improve my quality of life.) I guess I have a lot of hard thinking to do about what is going to be the best choice for me and how I am ever going to achieve the lofty heights of owning both a dog and a robot hoover. In the meantime, if you have any insights or wisdom that you would like to share, or if you know of anyone who is looking for a lapsed-geneticist lab demonstrator with sci comm experience who has done a lot of reading about public engagement, you can give me a shout on my shiney new anonymous blog-specific email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, I’m going to go and watch Breaking Bad now. Hopefully normal blog service will be resumed soon.