By Megan King |
Before I started my PhD, I loved the feeling of telling people, “Yeah, I’m moving to England to do a PhD,” with a just a hint of boastfulness. I loved seeing the surprised reactions of the customers for whom I had spent years making tea and scones, seemingly expressing “She’s studying for a doctorate?!” across the brunch table. I loved hearing people describe me as clever and admirable. I loved feeling hopeful about the possibilities that awaited me. In fact, I was so excited about making new friends, reading new books, securing new job opportunities, and receiving a long-awaited “fresh start” that I essentially forgot about the practical side of a trans-Atlantic career change. The realization that a self-funded PhD program would be vastly different from my experiences at the undergraduate and master’s levels became overshadowed by farewell dinners and flight bookings.
The truth is that at the age of thirty, my circumstances had changed and so had I. My retired parents were no longer able to support me financially the way they had during my previous degrees, and even if they could have, I was too proud to accept handouts at my age. On top of that, I had more monthly expenses, including but not limited to my already mounting student debt and the emergency credit card that I had allowed to become the everyday survival card. I had also outgrown the standard collegiate diet of ramen noodles and microwavable macaroni and cheese, so somehow, I had to reorient my finances to cover the costs associated with moving while simultaneously ensuring that I could afford vegetables. My first year was definitely an adjustment, but now that I’m three years in, with a fast-approaching submission date, a fiancé, a shared flat, and a new car, it’s officially real.
Add in the struggles and complications of a global pandemic, and things get even more stressful. I realize that I have no need to tell other postgraduates about the financial strains of completing a PhD, as even those with funding or assistantships are ultimately forced to cut corners and make sacrifices. In the midst of quarantining, though, I found myself feeling disadvantaged by my lack of funding. With absolutely no savings whatsoever, I am deeply reliant on the ambassadorial work I do when I’m not teaching as an hourly-paid lecturer, so with no face-to-face instruction opportunities, times are hard, and at times, it would have been really easy to let those stressors and negative feelings snowball.
Actually, it was really easy to let those stressors and negative feelings snowball. I miss my family turned into I want to receive daily retail therapy packages from Amazon which then reminded me that I’m broke. I needed to break the cycle. So, I’ve found things outside of PhD work that are either free or cheap to help prevent myself from overthinking and spiraling into an abyss of self-pity.
Go outside. It’s free (and permitted). While we all still need to stay safe and be mindful of social distancing recommendations, I’ve found my local woods and parks to be a perfect way to clear my head, get a few miles in, and safely enjoy some sunshine.
Practice gratitude. It might sound cheesy, but it can help! When the weight of the world feels like it’s pressing down on me, I go micro and just take a few moments to focus on the things I do have rather than the things I don’t, won’t, can’t or shouldn’t have. Sometimes I look at photos of the people I love and feel grateful for the fact that I have way more support than I think. Other times it’s as simple as focusing on gratitude for the lavender bubble bath that magically relieves my screen-induced migraines or the bangin’ cup of coffee that starts my day.
Get creative in the kitchen. I’m not going to lie. My partner and I are exhausted from cooking three meals a day for ourselves. How can two people create so many dirty dishes?! We both realize that dedicating some time to cook a decent meal not only allows us time away from our desks and televisions, but also allows us to feel like we’ve actually done something useful. So, we’ve tried to turn cooking into a little game called What’s in the Pantry? Let me tell you, you’d be surprised what you can do with some old tortillas, a tin of chickpeas, and whatever spices you bought the day week moved into your flat.
Read an e-book. So many are free online. Literally, just Google ‘free ebooks’, and from Gutenberg to Open Library, you’ll find plenty of free or cheap reads to entertain that brain of yours.
Learn a new language or brush up on your skills. I’m a big fan of learning languages, and since I can’t travel anywhere to practice those skills, I’ve turned to DuoLingo. I realize it’s not always the best idea to hop off on device only to pick up another at the end of the workday, but I’ve really enjoyed taking twenty minutes every other day or so to do something that still makes me feel productive. I will warn you in advance, though, that some of their lessons are very targeted. Thanks for calling me out, DuoLingo.
Break a Sweat. Working out in a flat definitely poses a problem, which I’m sure my downstairs neighbors will attest to, but there are so many free programs out there to help you move your body in whatever time or space you have. Whether you search through YouTube or try an app like Sworkit, you’ll find a variety of workouts to keep you active.
Megan King is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent, studying the process of radicalization in pre-Revolutionary America, and she serves as the Pubs and Publications social media coordinator. You can find further ramblings from her on Twitter.
Image 1: Völkerrechtsblog
Images 2, 3, 4: Megan King