I’m Amber Davis

I’m a political scientist and I help people write their best PhD happily and with ease.

I am not saying writing a PhD is easy. It’s not.

But it can be a lot easier than the struggle it often turns into.

I know because I ran into a big wall when I was writing my own PhD. In the third year of my PhD, which I was writing in Florence at the European University Institute I collapsed. I fell ill working hard to meet my 3rd year deadline, also known as the 2/3rds of the thesis.

I never got a diagnosis, until 6 years later when they found out I had late stage Lyme disease. I am not being melodramatic when I say it felt like I had died, except I couldn’t leave my body. I hardly had the energy to eat, I did not have the energy to have a normal conversation, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch tv, I couldn’t do simple things like cook a meal or answer the phone. I remember trying to fry an egg, and hardly having the energy to flip it out of the pan. I slept 16 hours a day, and could often not stop crying when I was awake. I couldn’t stand sunlight, I couldn’t stand sound. I often could not distinguish between sounds in my environment that seemed excruciatingly loud, and sounds inside my head.

My brain was fried.

This worst phase lasted about a year, but it took me more than 3 years before I could slowly start thinking about how to return to work. I still couldn’t do much. Leaving the house was often too much to ask energy-wise. Finding a ‘normal’ job, however part-time, was out of the question.

So I decided to finish my PhD.

Yes, I realise I am probably crazy.

But I figured I needed to do *something* to not go stir crazy around the house. I was regaining mental strength, and I was starting to think about my research. I was still interested in my project. One thing was certain, however. I could not simply get back on track ‘the old way’: my health would not allow it. That road had ended, and I needed to start creating a new one. This time I would take good care of myself, and, so I thought, I would ‘allow my PhD to write itself’. And it did. One step at a time, one 30-minute work session at a time my chapters were taking shape.

To my astonishment I finished writing my PhD in a couple of short hours a day. It wasn’t ‘easy’ in the conventional sense. I struggled with fatigue, frustration and severe limitations every single day. I wasn’t hopping around with excitement. I was too exhausted for that. But against all odds my work was advancing, and although it felt excruciatingly slow and incremental, all these small steps added up.

Just over a year-and-a-half after the decision to give my thesis a second chance, I was ready to send it out to the jury. The jury reports were extremely positive. One jury member commented: ‘Of all the theses I have read at the EUI, this is by far the most ground-breaking and rigorous, and displays intellectual maturity’. Another wrote: ‘Amber Davis provides a remarkably lucid analysis that has all the hallmarks of an excellent dissertation.’ The third commented: ‘This is a very good thesis. The model is very sophisticated and its application is impressive in its elaboration. It is rich in empirical detail, yet it never oversteps the boundaries of its theoretical perspective.’

I don’t mean to boast (well, only a little!). What I am trying to convey is my astonishment at not only how fast my thesis came together in the end, but also at how well it turned out. I was over the moon.

Fast forward: I defended, which was a far better experience than I could have imagined. That was in April 2012.

But how I wish I had taken the fast and more effortless path from the start! After my defence I decided I needed to start telling my story. Not so much to scare people with my freaky illness scenario, but to tell them there is a better way to write a PhD. An easier way, a happier way, a way that may sometimes feel slower, but is in fact the fast track.

Such a way exists, and you can do it too!

What did I do differently the second time around?

In a nut-shell:

I managed stress by taking care of my mind & body
I created a work routine that worked for me (no need to sit at the computer all day)
I learned how to get a LOT done in very little time
I learned to manage worry & thesis anxiety
I learned to ‘own’ my work and trust my ideas
I reminded myself to really enjoy solving my research problem and to work from a happy place

If this sounds like exactly what you need – have a look at the HappyPhD Online Course or sign up for free HappyPhD Updates with essays on these topics.

Coaching PhD students is now my occupation, and I would be delighted to work with you.

(If you’d like to read more about my academic credentials and my political science research, click here)

Good luck with your PhD, and do get in touch if you think I might be able to help!

Amber