Life (real life) is not like that

“Your basic worry is, of course, your PhD proposal. I wonder if you have made some progress in the meanwhile. Your trouble may be that you try too hard (‘do something really groundbreaking, brilliant and fascinating’). Life (real life) is not like that. However, no matter the topic you settle on, it will develop into something interesting once you get into it. You can’t expect life as a PhD to be a bed of roses…”

Quoted from a letter my LSE mentor Gordon Smith sent me in 2005 (back when we still wrote letters!). During this time I was writing the first chapters of my PhD, or, more accurately, still figuring out what my PhD would be about.

Are you trying too hard?

How Are You Unwilling to Support Yourself? (And a story about Trump)

How are you unwilling to support yourself? Answering this question (and changing my habits accordingly) was fundamental in getting my PhD process (and much else) to a better place. The question popped up in one of my feeds: it was a timely reminder. Sometimes I feel academics wear their unwillingness to support themselves as a badge of honour: how much we endure, the long hours we work, how stressed we are, seems to somehow reinforce the idea of how ‘tough’ academia is, and how ‘tough’ we are if we can ‘handle it’. It is a little like the starving artist […]

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Worst Nightmare Scenario: Failing Your PhD (and How Not To)

Failing your PhD. How does it happen? I have recently been a remote witness of a behind-the-scenes-drama: a PhD candidate who received a rejection from an external examiner. Her supervisors had approved the thesis, but a member of the committee rejected it, rightfully so as far as I can gather, judging from the report that spans over a thirty pages of why the thesis is lacking and needs at least a year’s more work. It is a tragic situation. I can’t think of many things worse, as far as PhDs go. When I was writing my PhD I never thought […]

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Happy New Year!

Let’s start the new year right. Together. If you sign up for the HappyPhD course before January 14th, I will give the self-study course to one of your friends or colleagues as a gift. If you’re feeling generous, if you like the idea of taking the course together (or if this will allow you to take the course moneywise) this is your chance. Make 2017 your best PhD year yet! Sign yourself up here, and I will contact you to arrange the gift. All my very best wishes for the New Year, Let’s open the champagne! Amber

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‘How to write a PhD’ with Hein De Haas

Hein de Haas is Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, and the former director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford. He is also a friend of mine. Almost two years ago, when I was staying in California for two months and he flew in for a conference, we sat down at Saul’s deli in Berkeley for lunch. Over chicken soup with matzo balls and latkes with apple sauce (so good!), we talked about academic writing. ‘We should do an interview!’ I said. ‘Would you?’ He would. Fast forward to present: last week we finally […]

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How to Plan Your Work

How do you plan your work? I’m always intrigued by people who schedule every project, cutting their projects into bite-size chunks, then organising them into their week. I’ve never been able to do that, and sometimes I wonder whether anybody can really tame academic work into cooperating like that?? With academic work everything always seems to take endlessly longer than you think it would. It seems frustrating to always come up short. What’s the alternative? In my experience simplifying and prioritising are what is called for, followed by implementation. It means you come up with a clear idea of what […]

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The Power of the Mind

How do we prevent our inner critic from taking over? How do we become more resilient in the face of criticism? How do we not succumb to feeling stuck when the pressure rises? How do we make it though a rough patch? How do we allow more joy and curiosity in? In the academic world the mind skills we develop and refine are our intellectual muscles, our critical capacity. The part that isn’t paid as much, or any attention to, is how to harness the power of the mind more broadly, on how work with our thoughts, and the feelings […]

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Building Your Academic Network

Disclaimer: This isn’t a post which will give you ‘Ten tips to network at academic conferences’. I don’t think it quite works like that. Building a ‘network’ isn’t the academic equivalent of cold calling. It is about building relationships with your academic peers and mentors… Imagine your academic field as a giant global network of scholars, some of whom work together (and some of whom will absolutely not!), and all of whom together shape the current academic debate on your topic. This will include the top scholars, as well as academics in your department (your supervisors perhaps), other departments nationally […]

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The Nudge: Coming to You Next Week

In academia workdays never seem to end. Firstly because there’s a culture of long hours (which isn’t necessarily the best way to go about it), and secondly because it just never ends…even when you’re not working, the project is still on your mind. The two combined can make for exhaustion and discouragement. I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time reflecting on how that happens, and what we might do instead. How we might create a schedule that isn’t quite as 24/7. How to work less, but get more done, and feel better too. If this […]

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‘Not everyone should get a PhD’ and other academic productivity fallacies

A few weeks ago I taught a workshop on academic productivity, and how self-care and perhaps counter-intuitive strategies such as shortening your workday may help. The audience were economists: PhD students, as well as a few faculty. Let’s just say it was an interesting experience! The dynamics were completely different compared to the other workshops I have taught, where the atmosphere tends to be relatively open, laid-back and sort of intimate. This time, however, that didn’t happen. Instead, there was a more challenging atmosphere, with more critical questions asked. By the supervisors, not the PhDs, I must add. The resistance […]

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