Hello! I’m Amber Davis
I’m a political scientist and I help people write their PhDs as efficiently and happily as possible. I strongly believe productivity and self-care go hand in hand, especially so in the academic world. I teach an online programme and provide coaching to help you reduce stress, increase your productivity and boost your wellbeing in an environment that isn’t always conducive to feeling and performing your best.
I learned these lessons the hard way, unfortunately.
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 fell seriously ill. It it was so serious in fact, I was forced to drop out of the PhD programme for several years. In the end it turned out to be late stage Lyme disease (it took six years to get that diagnosis! – but that is a story all to its own).
It took me more than three years before I could slowly start thinking about how to return to work, and it was at this point I decided I wanted to try to finish my PhD. I realised it would take an entirely different approach compared to what I had done before. I could not simply get back on track ‘the old way’: my health would not allow it. My energy constraints remained severe (as they do to this day). That road had ended, and I needed to start creating a new one. This time I would take excellent care of myself, and, so I thought, I would ‘allow my PhD to write itself’. No more pushing.
I tried every productivity trick and hack in the book, and started my n=1 experiment: could I finish my PhD in only a couple of hours a day? In retrospect, this is how I learnt most of what I teach today.
I took a particular interest in stress and how it relates to productivity, and I started realising what a key role it plays. Academia is a high-stress environment, yet we are often not aware of this fact or its consequences, let alone have strategies in place to handle the pressure effectively. This in turn directly affects both how well we perform academically, and how we feel about ourselves and our work. How to shift from a perpetual self-defeating cycle to a self-supporting, stress-reducing, productivity and wellbeing-enhancing cycle?
I wasn’t thinking about these issues in an abstract way. Rather, I was muddling though, finding answers as I went along.
To my astonishment I actually did finish writing my PhD in a couple of short hours a day as a result of changing the way I worked. 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 my thesis committee, and it was very well received. One committee 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 that working much shorter hours did not equate to cutting corners. It didn’t result in sloppy work (this had been my biggest fear).
I defended in 2012, which was a far better experience than I could have imagined.
After my defence I decided I needed to start telling my story and teach the hard-earned skills I had learnt along the way. There is a better way to do academic work, and you can do it too.
What I did differently the second time around?
In a nutshell:
- I managed stress by taking better care of my mind and 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 by harnessing the power of focus
- I learned to manage worry and thesis anxiety
- I learned to ‘own’ my work and trust my ideas
- I reminded myself to enjoy solving my research problem and to work from a place of intrinsic motivation
I created the Stress-Free PhD 6-Week Programme to teach these skills, and I am available for coaching to assist along the way. I work with researchers in the Netherlands (where I am based, I am Dutch/ English), all over Europe, and all over the world, and it has been wonderful to watch how often small changes can lead to better outcomes.
Good luck with your PhD, and do get in touch if you think I might be able to help!