Tag Archives: doing research

How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part III: Social life

Welcome to part III of our selfcare-series and I decided this time to write about social life, because I am a few days away of going on a long holiday. I definitely need a break and I really need to do this. And yes, there is still a lot of work to do – there is still a thesis that wants to be written.

But let me begin with… well, with us. We are all human beings. Human beings are social beings. Actually, this is very simple and logical and necessary for our survival – but, yes, you must have time for being social, espescially while trying to achive things like a PhD.

There are for sure some periods of your writing and thesis finishing phase where you are very anti-social and love everything about this kind of life. However, you may know that we cannot survive without social contacts and you may know that there are a lot of people who love you and who want to be part of your life because they care for you.

I have mentioned it before: the problem with your time. But you might remember part I and part II of our selfcare series – you have to plan your time carefully and you have to build up some routines. I am sorry to say this, but yes, you will sometimes need to make clear that your first priority is in fact work and your thesis – but that doesn’t make you a bad friend or a bad son/daughter/whatever. Some people will not understand it, I know this from my own experiences. Sometimes, this may be the case because they have no idea what you are actually working on and why it is so time consuming. Sometimes, it may be because they are not so interested in your life – we know these kind of people as toxic people and no, they are no good and you should not listen to them. Seriously, DON’T you ever let anybody tell you that you are a bad person because you are keeping your priorities fixed on your academic career. You need balance, and balance means that you have to say “no” to some social events. And you know, people who love you will understand.

But how to get that balance? Sometimes you cannot say “no”, because you should absolutely not. Like, birthday parties, visiting your grandparents or parents, vacation with friends, … some things are important for your well-being. The tricky thing is to know how to handle the huge amount of things that seem important.

You have to plan your time and you have to talk to your friends and your family about these things. They must know that you cannot be a spontaneous person for some years. And they love you and they will understand it and encourage you. The same thing works with you being good to yourself and allowing yourself to go on a holiday and getting some fresh air. And fresh thoughts, because your brain needs to relax.

So, the important thing I want to tell you in this post is: You have to be good to yourself. And this is really hard work, trust me. There is this toxic academic background: We are used to a huge workload and of course we will work night and day, we have to publish and doing research, we have to attend conferences and so on.

I can tell you a lot about this feeling, the terrible imposter syndrome – and the people who are always asking where you are going – at 5 pm, because they are still working and how can you possibly go home?

You can read about this academic overwork on all social media platforms. We are the new generation of academia. And what does this new generation mean? It means that we have a chance to change the system – at least a little bit. If all of us try to be good to ourselves, if all of us admit that taking a break, spending time with family and friends is totally normal, because we are social beings. Let overwork not be your guide in this jungle we call academia. Talk with your colleagues about it. Talk with your loved ones. Create a good environment of people who know how hard our world can be – and let them help you in reverse to never let go of the important things in life.

This advice does not mean that people who love to be all alone and love their work should stop working. I know these phases myself. There are times – months, sometimes only weeks – that I spend nearly alone, with my material and my research. I simply don’t like people in this phase. And then, when I am done, I will get back to normal.

And there are times that like to spend with my loved ones. And sometimes I do this with a real bad conscience – I should be writing/reading/… and instead I am eating the third slice of cake of my love’s grandma, having a blast at the barbecue party in her garden.

One day, I will remember this. I will never ever remember the days and hours locked up in my office with my research. I am proud of my work when it is done. But I remember the stories, the talks, the laughter, and for this I need real people.

So, next time you have the birthdayparty of your mum coming up – just drive home earlier that day. Surprise her. Or your love spends the day cooking for you – join him or her. Cook together, laugh together. And the day after you will start again, refreshed and relaxed – and in a very good mood. And being a happy academic you will do research happily. And happy research leds to happy ideas. And happy academic ideas lead to good work.

That’s it – be good to yourself, take a break and by the way, you are such a good looking person, you have it all, the intelligence, the wit, the spirit. You deserve a break. Go, get it!

See you all when my holiday is over. 😉

(Yes, I will struggle to get back, because … I mean, we are heading to Sardinia, you know – sea, sunset, the food! But yes, I will come back. After all… I have a date with this thesis.)

Conferencing – Nightmare vs. Highlight

You have maybe seen it on our social media profiles – Sarah and I are really big in conferencing right now. You know, just see a Call for Papers on the Internet or getting it by a mailing list service, from your professors, … and writing an abstract or a poster proposal, get accepted, prepare your presentation, paper, talk or poster and just get there. Sounds like a very easy thing, right?

So, why do some academics have the one and only big nightmare: presenting their work in a room full of people eagerly listening to their words? You got attention for your work, you will get asked fabulous questions, you can proove the worth of your research – yeah, but talking in a full room, in front of people, all of them eagerly listening, some of them very professionel and skilled in my area, knowing at least everything about my topic, so, no, thank you, I like to remain unknown and never ever want to give a talk.

Afraid of people listening? Do you want to get them to use and read your research? Yes? Well… You have to tell them. And yes, they want to hear it from you. That is why they are here. 🙂 It is that simple. (all the images by Pixabay)

If you want to stay in academia, YOU. HAVE. TO. PRESENT. YOUR. OWN. RESEARCH. Now, head for the mirror, give yourself a big smile and say these words over and over again! Until you believe them with your very heart! Go, now!

But I cannot talk that good.
You can learn it. Do you think, we just got this mighty skill of conference talking mode by sheer dumb luck? This is no sudden and frightening exam you had no idea was going to happen, this is a task you can prepare. You are allowed to prepare the best topic, in your own way, you know the amount of time you have to speak. You just have to prepare it well.

But I have nothing to present.
You are writing on a thesis, right? So, you are really devoted to one topic or field? You think that it is probably the most important field you have ever done research in? You have something to present.

But what if I cannot answer a question?
You are no know-it-all genius, you are a human being, so, it is perfectly allright to tell people that you have right now no good answer, but of course you will look it up – just ask the persons asking for their contact, if you want, and write them an e-mail. You know, research works with asking questions.

Yes, by presenting your research, you set yourself to a very vulnerable position, but if you are well prepared, nothing can happen to you at all. Just stay friendly and listen to your audience. You have not to know everything.

But what if someone just tears my research (and me) apart?
Okay, tough one. But, if you are well prepared, you can resist this attack. By the way, you know that there are two different ways of being critical and the destructive way will serve to your best – because the evil critic will be judged by his or her way of criticism and you will have the sympathy of your audience. Especially as a student – you have to think it the other way: Even the people in the audience had at one point in their academic career their very first paper to present. We all started that way.

So, how to practice or prepare?
Ask your peers – talk to your friends, your teachers, your colleagues. Ask them about their conference routine. Remember yourself why you started with your current research. And yes, I know, I am citing now Marie Kondo: Does it spark joy? Of course it does. So, let that joy be visible for your audience.

But I am so nervous!
Practice. Practice your talk. Write the text, read it aloud. Read it while standing in front of a mirror. Read it in front of the mirror with the clothes you are going to wear right on. Get the feeling. Imagine the situation. Who will be there? Focus on the people you may know. When presenting you can look at them in the audience or focus on at least one person to the right, the middle and the left in your audience, always rotating with your eyes – speak to your audience, not to the floor, the ceiling or the paper in front of you.

The use of attending conferences?
Networking. I know, this strange academic habit we have all heard of a lot. But yes. Big conferences are like a marketplace for us youngsters in academia. You can meet important people of your field in a relaxed atmosphere, because after presenting, everybody gets a coffee and the talking, discussing and researching goes on. In fact, networking is quite a big topic, so we will present you one blogpost about it next week.

During conferences you are able to contact important people for your field or for your research. Coffe breaks or conference dinners are a great way to socialize and to discuss your research.

Next to networking, you have the possibility to get all the news in your field and this is important too. You have to stay  up to date, right?

And, last but not least, attending conferences is a very important part of your acadmic CV and it looks good to have some big events in it. You have to start somewhere, so maybe there is the possibility in your department or maybe in your graduate school to attend smaller conferences or workshops. Just take the chance to do so. You always have to remember that talks and presentations are some kind of publicity for yourself and for your research. You have to sell yourself – at least a bit. You have something interesting to say, so say it. You will be heard. You will be seen.

So, stay tuned – I shout out to you, brave warriors of academia. Whereever you are, have a good start in your hopefully relaxed summer and keep on reading our blog for new posts!

We would be happy, if you share your conference experiences with us! So, leave a comment! 🙂

All the best,

Astrid