By Louise Morgan |
I have always been very much an introvert. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting in my room with a book and a cup of tea (read: glass of wine) and talking to absolutely nobody. Studying a PhD is in many ways an introvert’s dream – you work for long hours on your own, conducting your own research, emerging only from the warren of research to hear about other people’s work and socialize. Everyone warns of the isolation of a PhD before you start, but honestly to me that seemed like no bad thing. It was therefore a great surprise to me to discover that I really love studying and working with other people.
There are many great blogposts on this website, advising you of the importance of finding your own workspace in the PhD, and suggesting different locations that this might be. Keeping this in mind, I spent the majority of my first term trying out different study spaces across the campus, the city, and my house. University libraries and anywhere I could see my bed were no-nos – university libraries were either painfully quiet or irritatingly loud, and working at home the temptation to nap was just far too great. I enjoyed working in cafes, but the lack of reliable plugs and the cost of my caffeine habit was a serious con. My university has several dedicated postgraduate study areas – these had the nice balance between a library and a more relaxed cafe, but I still found that I could only sit for a couple of hours before getting bored and distracted and needing to move.
However, this all changed when I started chatting to some of my fellow PhD cohort. I’d bumped into a couple of them on my travels in search of a study space, and quite naturally we began working together. Now, I’m lucky enough to be able to work with them pretty regularly in the same space. Working with other people means that I am held accountable – I can no longer spend hours in the library online window shopping or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter. When we take breaks, I want to be able to say I’ve achieved something with my time, and I enjoy the feeling of being able to justify a coffee break to sit and chat with friends.
I find that my work pattern is also more regulated. I aim to get to campus for a similar time every day, in part to secure a good table. I take regular breaks, I drink more water, and I get fresh air – all things I would struggle to remember to do on my own. If I have to run off to a quick meeting, there’s someone I can leave my stuff with, a luxury in a world of limited lockable storage and heavy books. When we stop for tea and coffee, I have someone who understands the difficulties of a PhD to listen to my woes, and I’m able to escape my own research for five minutes as I listen to the struggles of others. The increased productivity means that I’m able to finish at a normal working hour most nights, and that when I get home I actually really enjoy and savour that alone time I love.
Undoubtedly, however, the nicest thing about co-working is the feeling of friendship. Making friends can be tough during a PhD. Everyone is concerned with their work, concerned with CV boosting, working multiple jobs to fund their PhD, studying from a distance, or on research trips across the world. While you meet lots of great, like-minded people, you also rarely see them. Finding a regular study group can be a great antidote to this problem.
Louise Morgan is Contributions Editor for Pubs and Publications. In the first year of her PhD at the University of Warwick, her research focuses on the history of orthorexia nervosa and clean eating. She can be found on Twitter.