Lessons learnt from my PhD

I know, there exist more ‘How to do a PhD’ posts than there are spotted dalmatians.  And ‘lessons learnt from my PhD’ is not the most original title, but all my creative energy was expended in coming up with the title for this blog (an obscure combination of a speechie in-joke and John Cleese film title, so probably unlikely to impress more than a small handful of people, but I am chuffed with it nonetheless).

However, I always like to read about other peoples’ PhD experiences and in an effort to avoid coding copious amounts of data, have decided to add my own account to the blogesphere. This leads me to lesson number 1.

The P must stand for Procrastination

Oh my, I had not known procrastination until I started this PhD.  And I hate it.  My control-freak, action girl, Type A personality hates the procrastination.  But then the other side of my brain takes over – the side that says ‘sometimes this is hard – and I need a break’.  And then the two sides balance each other out and I end up with some semblance of a work-life balance and a PhD that is progressing well.  So I think I have come to accept that a little procrastination is maybe a good thing?  Doesn’t make me hate it any less though.

Love Thy Research

I discovered, more by accident than design, how important it is to be truly passionate about your PhD topic.  Because when it gets hard (and it does get hard, as I eluded to above), if you love your topic, it’s motivation enough to keep going.  Every time I have wanted to throw it all in, I think of the families whose lives have the potential to be improved by the outcomes of my research (dreaming big here, but hey, why not?) and remember why I am actually do this – and also that I should get over myself – because ‘PhD hard’ pales in comparison to ‘raising a kid with autism’  hard.

“Take Control of That Steering Wheel Dude!”

So perhaps I am paraphrasing one of my supervisors ever so slightly – her point though, was that this PhD belongs to me.  So as much as my supervisors can offer (sometimes conflicting) suggestions, at the end of the day, it’s my decision what happens with this project and the outcomes (good or bad) are on me.  A big important lesson for ‘don’t rock the boat‘ girl to learn – it’s okay to listen to suggestions but decide to take a different approach.  It’s okay to put boundaries on a project.  It’s okay to ask for more from supervisors or to ask for something different.  The metaphorical penny dropped for me about a year into my PhD and ever since I stopped trying to create the perfect project and started trusting myself to make decisions, it got easier.

Mix It Up and Make It Work

My current strategy to coping with coding overload? (other than creating a blog, obviously) Mix it up.  Coding qualitative data is tedious.  The definition of tedious.  I love my data, and taking time to think about it, but there is only so much coding I can do without going bonkers.  So I mix up everything else to keep it interesting.  Some days I’m happy enough coding in front of the heater in my Ugg boots.  Other days I need one song played on repeat (current track: Still Into You by Paramore).  Sometimes I’ll work in a cafe.  And today it appears that my strategy is mixing up coding with blogging.  I guess whatever works?!

Focus on the Helpers

There are people who will help, and there are people who will put up road blocks, at every step of the way.  Focus on the people who will help – and remember to acknowledge them at the front of the thesis – and forget about the hinderers.  Well, manage your relationships with them so that you are able to progress with your project (read: keep them happy so that you get what you need).  And then forget about them.

So, that’s it, 5 lessons I have learnt so far.  Not a definitive list and I’m sure this list will continue to change and evolve as I attempt to finish analysis and wrangle this project into a completed thesis. And in the meantime, who knows what else I will do in an attempt to procrastinate?  Underwater knitting has always sounded interesting….