By Anna Maguire|
Wanted: One research caretaker. Duration: 2 months. Tasks: guardian for an unwieldy doctoral project; acting as a proxy for supervisions; general writing and editing duties. Bonus on submission.
Ahh, summer. When the teaching and marking is over, your supervisor starts to make noises about complete drafts and you laugh in the face of non-academic friends who innocently inquire about the long student holidays. Last summer, I wrote up. Through days lost to grief and hate-reading Twitter (thanks Brexit) and heat-waves that meant the only comfortable place to write was flopped directly in front of a fan, I persevered. There was a strange pleasure in the devotion to that single task. But the myth of needing to ‘give it your all’ is not a reason to sacrifice your health or wellbeing. Yes, you want to finish knowing it’s a job well done but there is no prize for the busiest or most stressed PhD student at the end (despite what some colleagues might have you believe). In the absence of someone to look after you thesis for you (as sought above), here are some of the day-to-day things that got me through:
- A holiday
Genuinely, take some time off. Put the laptop down and step away. I went to the Scottish Highlands with no internet for 4 days and it gave me peace and perspective. While you’re waiting for feedback, can be a good time to take a little break. So, chat to your supervisors and draw up a rough timeline – remember they may be away too. If you can’t afford a trip away, why not have a staycation and ask someone you trust to look after your laptop? This could be your last bit of time in your doctoral home so make the most of it! Weekends and day trips are also good if too much time off makes you anxious. Make a deal with yourself about the number of days you think you can manage.
- Lunch breaks
This is the time to embrace your lunch break. Cook yourself something delicious, go for a walk, call a friend. You are earning this downtime, it’s yours to take. Getting out of your work space (particularly if you work from home) can give you some important processing time that staring at thousands of words won’t. Also good if, like me, you can’t work outside but would still like to see something of the famous British Summer.
- Shake up your routine
This might be the last time that you have control of your time. A change can be as good as a rest. For me, taking a few hours off in the middle of the afternoon when I’d done a mornings work and going to the gym or meeting a friend for a coffee helped me come back fresh and avoid the 4 o’clock fidgets. If you’re an early bird or a night owl play to your strengths. You could also try mixing up your workspaces to avoid feeling stagnant or if you’ve got something dull but necessary like formatting footnotes to do – you don’t always have to be in your thesis cave!
- Treat Yo’self
Be kind to yourself, you’re doing something really big and stressful. Treats as rewards or incentives can range from the very small to something more extensive and expensive . Ice lollies, cinema matinees or a massage for the shoulders that are carrying burdens and books.
While the ‘self-care’ discourse can belie structural problems with academic working conditions, finishing your thesis is something we all have to do whether it’s summer or not. If you’re really struggling, don’t assume it’s ‘normal’ and do ask for help. Wishing you all the best of luck.
Anna Maguire has recently completed her PhD on Colonial Encounters during the First World War at King’s College London and Imperial War Museums. She is currently a researcher and tutor at both King’s and IWM. She is Contributions Editor for Pubs and Publications. You can also find her on Twitter.
Image One: Working Outside (Courtesy of Max Pixel)
Image Two: “You Deserve It” by Instant Vantage (Flickr)