The Inner Compass (or: Feeling Better When Academia Disappoints)

We tend to rely on external events to determine how we are doing: we publish an article and we are up; the article gets rejected and we are down. The meeting with the boss goes well and we are up; they push all our buttons and can’t see our point of view and we are down. We have a productive day and we are up; we have an unproductive day, our computer freezes on us, the data don’t cooperate, nor does the photocopier, we are late for our meeting and down we go. In terms of happiness it isn’t the […]

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Past the Breaking Point: The Myth of Competition and Performance in Academia

A few weeks ago a to-remain-unnamed director of graduate studies uttered the following statement: “Unless about 25% of your PhDs drop out, your PhD programme isn’t competitive enough.” What? Did I hear that correctly? What did he say?! It wasn’t a mistake. When asked again, and given a chance to perhaps come up with some nuance or disclaimers, he said: “I stand by that. I mean it! If you can’t handle it you shouldn’t be in academia.” Right. This is a problem in academia: people in charge talk ‘excellence’ and ‘performance’ and ‘competition’ but they don’t think it through. Instead […]

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Procrastination Part Two: Nine Suggestions

Procrastination. I am still on the topic. As I shared with you in the previous blog post, changing your procrastination habit involves changing your tiny daily actions. It is the smallest, subtle, incremental changes that produce the eventual substantial change in productivity. I am keen on this idea. It makes overcoming procrastination doable. You are no longer mentally fighting the huge imaginary procrastination beast (aka PhD monster), depleting all your resources, but instead see its ability to impress shrink one small action at a time. Nine anti-procrastination suggestions: 1. Create a minimal, doable schedule Start small. If you have gotten […]

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Procrastination No More

I am currently working with someone I’d call the Queen of Procrastination. Let me just say that her workday tends to start after midnight, and that only if she has a deadline. Not just any deadline, but a deadline that CANNOT BE MET unless she gets something on paper that very night. She emailed me asking for ‘sage advice’. (I love her.) The first week we worked together I recommended she set up a minimal work schedule. Minimal, so it would be doable (we agreed on two hours of work per day); and scheduled so it would be practical. It […]

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Say Goodbye to Burnout: 6 Tricks

It seems to be a natural law that when you get whacked over the head by something, difficulties increase exponentially rather than linearly. As one PhD commented in a conversation we had: “It requires strength when you least have it.” It does. It forces you to become smarter than you were, to do things more cleverly. (Some people call this the ‘gift’ or the ‘lesson’. I don’t know about that, but I do know there are few alternatives). Sometimes there is a trick, a new way of thinking about things, of doing things, that makes all the difference. Not a […]

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Win the HappyPhD Course!

It’s time for my yearly HappyPhD course giveaway! If you know about the course and would like to win it: please enter. If you don’t know about the course, find out more here. I’ve been teaching the course for a couple of years now, at times slightly updating and improving the content, and there are a number of themes that keep cropping up: Productivity If you are feeling you aren’t as efficient as you’d like: the course will help. First step: getting out of distraction and overwhelm by creating routines that ensure your energy levels are high (enough) and you […]

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‘The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD into a Job’ – Reflections

Karen Kelsky, of ‘The Professor Is In’ has a book out, based on her years of advising PhDs. Preparing yourself (and the range of documents that represent you) for the job market is her niche. I once thought I’d regularly feature PhD book reviews on this site, that is until I actually read some PhD advice books. Many of them didn’t appeal. This one is an exception. If you are in academia, and want to stay there: get this book. If you want to quit academia: same. It is written from a U.S. Perspective with the U.S. (humanities) job market […]

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How to Ease Supervision Blues: Three Perspectives

Supervision: too often the stuff of headaches. In the current academic world where research output is valued above all else and academics are stretched and stretched, and sometimes overstretched to meet their multiple obligations, supervision too often becomes an afterthought. Add to that an academic culture in which PhD projects are increasingly squeezed into impossibly linear schedules – with the emphasis again on ‘measurable output’, while academics are not in any way trained on how to coach and supervise, somehow having to figure this out for themselves (and are definitely not all innately able!), accidents happen. No fatalities, mostly, but […]

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Summer Slow Down: Time to Relax, Recharge, Reflect

Summer. Time to relax, recharge, and…reflect. How was your academic year? What went well? What didn’t? Anything you’d like to change? This slow time of year (though I know, it’s academia, for some of you conference season may be right round the corner) is an excellent time to reflect and ask some questions we don’t tend to get round to when we’re hopping around from one obligation to the next. With our eyes on the next short-term goal, and immersed in the details of our work, perspective gets lost. The summer is a time to chill out a bit, zoom […]

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Stress: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Say ‘stress’. What comes up for you? For most people ‘stress’, means: ‘I have too much to do’ or ‘I am so stressed I want to pull my hair out!’ I want to look at it a little differently. I want to look at stress as a demand you place on yourself, or is placed on you. That’s neutral. It depends on what exactly the stressor is, and how you react to it whether it’s a positive or negative. To make it more specific: let’s say your stressor is a deadline. We all know how deadlines have a knack for […]

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