By Philippa Hill |

Right, I admit it, I spent all of my evenings a few weeks ago trying to find out ‘how much work was enough for a PhD student?’ Is everyone working 9-5 or does everyone work late into the evening, sleep in the office and become ‘that friend who is always working and we haven’t seen in a while?’

It won’t be a surprise that my search didn’t reach a conclusion. There’s a general stigma that a PhD students will have to work all weekend, live under their desks and emerge as a beautiful, academic butterfly at the end. When you aren’t working like this, it’s easy to feel guilty.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. In my endless searching I came across some really interesting blog posts discussing PhD research, retaining your evenings and weekends, and the worth of ‘time off’. That your best ideas come when you take time off, that lightbulb moment when riding your bike, cooking for friends or…relaxing.

As a second year PhD student, I can’t deny that it’s really easy to hide yourself away in the office or lab, fill your time with data analysis and writing, and easily conclude that you can’t afford to take an hour off for that Union Postgraduate event. But, and believe me, your PhD experience will be enhanced if you do. It’s important to keep a non-PhD life – while your research may seem like your world at the moment, you existed without it and it’s important to build a supportive network and community away from the love of your life that is your research. And if this doesn’t convince you, remember that the chance meeting and connections with fellow researchers could lead to a fruitful collaboration later down the line!

Postgraduate community

When I started my PhD, I came together with three other students to re-energise the Union’s Postgraduate Society, which had disappeared. The ins and outs of getting the society off the ground, trying to get our weekly newsletter into PhD students email inboxes, and the flattened spirits when only one person turned up to our ‘craft event’ made the four committee members an ambitious team! We became recognised for our persistence, attendance at all postgraduate-related events and as not afraid to have our say on the postgraduate experience! The other committee members have become my closest fellow PhD friends (and our group chat shares the highs, lows and regular chat about the X-Files).

PG society picture


Eighteen months later, the Society meets weekly, organise weekend excursions, and both the University and the Union are now providing Postgraduate events, and working towards enhancing the postgraduate experience. Without the society I would have spent many of my weeks alone without fellow PhD researchers to share the lows and highs with. It’s a great way to meet fellow students in a variety of subjects to share the postgrad experience with. If a similar society exists where you are studying, then I strongly encourage you to get involved! That hour afternoon break away from your desk to attend an event will leave you feeling refreshed and it’s not slacking off – it’s networking!

The outside world

It exists. Make time for your hobbies, family and friends. They could twist your research in interesting ways, broaden your career network and, importantly, the outside world will still exist when you thesis is finished. Keep your feet on the ground and immerse from the academia bubble occasionally to think about other subjects and forget about the uncertainty or certainty of your thesis. You may just find the best proof-readers at that evening class!

And finally look after yourself – this really shouldn’t come last on the list. Ever felt really tired, like you’ve been surviving on takeaways and your friends have forgotten your existence but you’ve sent that draft journal paper to your supervisor? Remember to take time out for yourself, enjoy activities aside from your research and let your brain have a little rest. We all feel some form of PhD guilt but taking time away from your research and having a break are essential to keeping healthy, happy and remembering that your PhD doesn’t define you.

Philippa Hill is a second year PhD student at the University of Leeds. and unsuccessfully trying to get #WeCanPhD to trend! When she’s not studying she can be find running, climbing or mountaineering. She likes to think she takes good photographs of these adventures; some of which appear on her Twitter page @PhilippajHill.

(Cover image (c); Image 1 (c) Philippa Hill)