How to get your focus and motivation back

How to get your focus and motivation back

Welcome to another one of my PhD SOS tips and tricks blog posts. Today’s post is all about how to stay enthusiastic, inspired and focussed. Everyone is guilty of losing focus and as a result feeling demotivated from time-to-time. Doing a PhD can be a long slog. Here in the UK a typical PhD takes 4 years to complete, and over in the US it’s a whopping 6-7 years! It’s no surprise that as PhD students, our levels of passion and determination can go through peaks and troughs. Post-doctoral researchers have a tough time of it too. The need to get the data, to write those papers and to hope a grant will be accepted so you’re not out of a job can become a little stressful to say the least. But it’s not just scientists that have these struggles, any career can have the highs and the lows! We can also feel unmotivated in aspects of our home life, such as training for that half marathon or learning a new language.

So, how can you stay focussed and motivated?

I’m going to ask you some important questions, so stop what you’re doing and have a proper think about your answers to what I’m about to ask. By doing this, you’ll hopefully find that burst of determination!

My top 5 questions from me to you

#1: Why did you choose to do what you’re doing?

When things get stressful or boring, and you lose the motivation to put the work in, it can be very easy to say the words “why am I doing this” or “I’m so fed up” or even “I want to quit”. At times like this you need to ground yourself and remember why you started what you’re working on. There’s clearly good reasons why you’ve chosen this PhD right? Rewind that clock back, why did you make the decision to take on this task? What inspired you to in the first place? Ask yourself these questions and remind yourself of all the positives in why you started what you’re doing. Revisit those feelings and remember your ‘why’.


#2: What is your destination?

What is your end goal? What do you want to get out of it? These questions will really help you refocus on your aspirations and desires in life, and what makes you have that important sense of accomplishment. I’ve had my fair share of low moments during my PhD and with that came periods of zero focus or motivation. What helped keep me going? Knowing that I will eventually become Dr Jones, that all my years learning about science were not wasted, and it would lead to an exciting career somewhere in science. Imagine the moment when you get to your destination. Think about all the awesome potential it has for you. Imagine how fulfilled, proud and happy you’ll be to know you pushed through the harder times and ticked off that end goal. Thinking about those moments in the future will help motivate you in times of need!


#3: Can you break the work down into small fun-sized pieces?

The answer is always yes. Little steps at a time. This is so vital to anything you’re lacking focus or motivation in. Completing all the lab work for your PhD or writing the thesis can seem like a mammoth of a task. Breaking the work up into small and easy to manage pieces is fundamental to focus. Check back over onto my “Top 10 tips for surviving a PhD” where I mention how focussing on the small steps can make the mountain that is your goal a much easier climb. This trick allows you to focus on the now. Trust me, the work will suddenly feel a lot more manageable, and you’ll achieve your end goal with much less stress. Make daily and weekly goals to reach those more significant ones.

Small steps vector

#4: What makes you happy?

Feeling unfocussed and demotivated often brings stress. So let’s focus on YOU and YOUR wellbeing. What makes you happy? What de-stresses you? What makes you full of life? This is the bit of advice I like to hear, go and do something fun! Treat yourself! Have ‘you time’. For me I love to CrossFit in the evenings, do some yoga, work on my science communication projects or hang out with friends. It is so important to do the things that make you happy. Yes, you might love your PhD for the most part, but when you do find yourself in a period of very little focus then you need to balance your time with other things that are relaxing and fun. These factors that chill you out will make you happier. In turn you’ll think more clearly, have a more positive attitude, feel more motivated and therefore be more productive. It’s all about that positive feedback loop!


#5: Who is there to help you?

When you are having those dips in focus and motivation, having a good support network can really help. It’s healthy to get someone else’s wisdom and advice, perhaps they can say something that will empower you and boost your ability to focus. In my top 10 tips blog post I spoke about the importance of a good support network in relation to a PhD. These people could be fellow PhD students, post docs, supervisors, other academics, head of faculty or student services. Friends and family members are always a good place to talk things through with. The internet can also be a good place to seek support, and surprise surprise, I’m going to suggest blogs! You are not going to be the only person who is struggling with focus in the type of task or challenge you have committed yourself to. Search the internet and seek out other people’s advice who you can relate to. As you’re reading this, I hope that I can be one of those people in your support network! One thing I’d say is that to get the best help you need to identify what the issue is. Once you’ve done that, there is a wealth of support out there for you. Don’t struggle alone.

Support network vector


My bonus tips and tricks!

A serious procrastinator?

How often do you aimlessly scroll through social media, read the celebrity gossip or think you can watch Netflix whilst working? If you are guilty of procrastinating regularly then here are some tips to cut back and concentrate!

  • Set yourself a certain amount of work before allowing yourself to do these things.
  • When you do them put an alarm on (e.g. 10 minutes) so you don’t find an hour has passed!
  • For those serious procrastinators amongst you – consider using blocking websites!


Take breaks… but manage them!

Having breaks throughout your working day enhances productivity. It gives those hard working brain cells a little rest, and helps keep focussed. My friends and I always have morning tea break at 11am (which I LOVE!), so that helps me to focus and get lots of work done before, which in turn makes me feel great. But remember, manage your breaks! Time flies by when you’re having a cup of coffee and catching up with friends. Schedule in the breaks but have a time in mind for when you’ll start work again.


Sleep well

Getting optimal sleep is vital for that all important brain power. The optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person but we should be getting 7-9 hours a night.  Getting the right amount of sleep for you will make your whole day so much easier. You’ll wake up ready to start the day. You’ll have a good amount of energy and so your ability to concentrate and focus won’t be as much of a struggle. Good quality sleep also helps with those happiness levels. Having a positive mind set for the day will naturally make you more motivated, focussed and productive.



Take yourself out of that working environment and move around, shake off any stress. Exercise helps to improve concentration, but how?

  • Increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain – better brain performance
  • Stimulates hormones and growth factors – promotes growth of brain cells, slows down age-related decline
  • Hippocampus highly active – improves memory and learning skills
  • Releases serotonin and other endorphins – improves mood and mental health
  • Reduces risk of many diseases – improved overall health



Celebrate successes

When you achieve a specific goal celebrate! You’ve put in the work, now do something for you. In my last “PhD SOS” blog post titled “The halfway milestone: the transfer thesis” I had a whole section about treats. This tip works for me anyway! When you accomplish your short term daily/weekly goals and your longer term goals, treat yourself. Do something fun. Go for a walk, go out for dinner, take a day trip to the beach, drink cocktails with the girls – whatever floats your boat. Planning these celebrations for when you reach those goals makes it all a lot easier and gives you that focus and motivation.



So if you were feeling unfocussed and unmotivated before you read this post, I hope my 5 questions helped you to feel more inspired and ready to knuckle down and achieve the awesome things you set out to do. I want this blog post to be a resource for you – if you are having one of those dips in productivity and focus, then read back over this! Ask yourself those 5 questions again, and go back over those tips and tricks.

As always, if you have any other golden nuggets of advice, please comment below as I’d love to hear what you have to share!


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Get involved with science – British Science Week

Get involved with science – British Science Week

Friday marked the start of British Science Week! The one week in the year which is dedicated to all things science. I know what you’re all thinking, how awesome! Well, me too.

Science is not just for us scientists and researchers, it’s for everyone. One of the reasons I’ve made this blog is to break down complicated science and explain it in a clear way for everyone to learn from and enjoy. So many researchers can get bogged down into the hardcore science, writing paper after paper, but when asked to explain their science to a non-scientist they actually really struggle. Public engagement and outreach is becoming more highly recognised as an important area to target. I believe it is so vital that all the hard work scientists put in to advance the field is relayed back to the public. Plus, it’s always good to develop yourself and learn new things!

So what is British Science Week?

British science week

It’s a festival dedicated to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), but weirdly it’s across ten days, not seven. There will be a huge range of science activities for all ages to engage with across the UK.

“British Science Week 2015 saw over 5,000 events engage more than 1.6 million participants, with activities taking place across the UK.”

It’s such a great opportunity for everyone. It encourages the scientists to develop their ability to explain the research to a lay audience, and to think outside the box to create some really fun activities. Most importantly, it shows that science is fun and interesting, and provides a platform for anyone to get involved with the science community.


How can I get involved?


There are going to be hundreds of events across the UK. Interested in Biology? Chemistry? Physics? Maths? Engineering? The whole combo?… well there is something for everyone. The best place to check out these events is by clicking on British Science Week’s website. From there you can get more details on how to get involved in your local area and what exciting activities you can get stuck in with over the ten days.

For those that don’t know, I’m a PhD student at The University of Southampton, so I’m going to talk about a few ways you can immerse yourself in science across the UK but also specifically in the city of Southampton.

Southampton Science and Engineering Day


Photo from University of Southampton

Living in or around the Southampton area? Or visiting next weekend? Saturday 18th March is the Southampton Science and Engineering Day, and it’s a great day out for the whole family. Check out the programme to find out what you can discover on the day. There are plenty of interactive games and activities to have a go at!

I’m going to be there jumping between two stands. The first one being Pint of Science (which I’m ecstatic to be publicist for!) and my department’s stand which is all about how maternal nutrition can affect the baby’s health throughout their life course. So come over and say hello!

What about outside of British Science Week?



Are there events outside of British Science Week to get involved with? Of course there are. We’re not going to make you wait for another 51 weeks! Check out British Science Association website  to find out what events are happening after this science festival across the UK. Here are a few good ones to bare in mind…

Pint of Science


Scientist or non-scientist – stop what you are doing and add Pint of Science to 15th, 16th, 17th May 2017 in your diary/calendar/planner! This is one science festival you don’t want to miss. Pint of Science is happening in lots of different cities across the UK, and I have the privilege of being the publicist for Southampton!

So what is it?

The festival has grown immensely over the past few years. There are six different themes (Atoms to Galaxies, Beautiful Mind, Planet Earth, Our Society, Tech Me Out and Our Body) and each theme hosts their three nights in a pub somewhere in the city, cool right? There are typically two or three speakers at each pub talking about their research. It’s a relaxed way for anyone to come and learn about the research going on. Event nights sold out last year, so go to our event page, keep an eye out for when tickets go on sale, come along, grab a pint and engage with science!


Bright Club

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 19.30.32
Photo from Bright Club Southampton

Do you consider scientists to be comedians too? Well Bright Club is when researchers become comedians for the evening. This originally started at University College London but has since grown across the country. Here in Southampton we’re lucky enough to of had a dedicated team of postgraduate researchers to start their own Bright Club Southampton. The event nights are open to researchers in any field to give the science/stand-up comedy mix a go, but of course anyone can come along to learn about the science going on behind the scenes and have a laugh!

Interested in a specific speaker who performed at a show? Well they’ve just started doing podcasts so you’ll be able to listen to the interviews and learn more about that researcher and all of their hard work. Next event is in May, so stay tuned!

Soapbox Science

Soapbox science

This one is for the female scientists out there! Soapbox Science gives passionate women in STEM the opportunity to tell the public about their research.

“It won’t surprise you that science suffers as much from the gender-biased leaky career pipe as any other demanding career… up to 60% of science undergraduates are women; yet only 15% of UK science professors are women. Soapbox Science is born from the hearts of active female scientists who are deeply concerned about the loss of excellence from the women of the UK’s science community”.

Events are happening in multiple locations within the UK (including Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, London and Manchester) as well as in Germany, Canada, and Australia. Ladies, get stuck in, stand up on that soapbox and share your exciting new research findings!



Are you interested in conservation and ecology? If yes, have a look into BioBlitz. This is a fantastic opportunity for nature experts and the community to unite. It’s all about exploring the local wildlife and biodiversity – finding and identifying as many different species of birds, bugs and plants as you can.


University of Southampton Roadshow

UoS roadshow
Photo from University of Southampton


This is all about “bringing research to life”. The team get on the road and attend various public events across the south of England, sharing all the different types of research that goes on here at the university with you. Click here to find out where they plan to go this year. Watch out for them at Southampton Science and Engineering Festival, Cheltenham Science Festival, Glastonbury Festival, New Forest Show and many more!

The Science room @ The Art House

The science room

The Science Room is a unique organisation that hold events on alternate Saturdays. It’s all about science led by the community, which is super cool. Events are based on your questions, and then relevant researchers are invited to discuss the answers. It’s great, it allows those questions which many people wonder about to be discussed, like “why is the sky blue?”. It’s a great chance to meet new people and engage in a whole new community, creating a dialogue between the scientists and the public.

Researchers’ Café

Researchers cafe

Want to know more about the research that goes on behind the University of Southampton’s doors? Attend a Researchers’ Café event! Sit back, listen to researchers explain their research, sip some hot tea or coffee and be part of the discussions.

Café Scientifique

Cafe scientifique

“Science for the price of a coffee”

Café Scientific is run multiple locations worldwide. It’s all about wondering into a café or bar and enjoying a coffee or glass of wine whilst enhancing your scientific knowledge. Discuss current research and debate scientific issues. Get those sciencey brain cells working!



Scientists – get involved too!!

Are you a scientist? Don’t just hide out in the lab, get out there and share your exciting new findings! Educate those that do not work in STEM, and enhance the amount of science others can learn. Wherever you are in the world, check out what opportunities are in your area and ask to be involved!


So whether you are a non-scientist or a scientist… get stuck in!



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