The PhD slump

The PhD slump

Everyone’s PhD is different and we all go through highs and lows. What I call ‘the PhD slump’ is that period many of us experience where we severely struggle with motivation, focus, belief in ourselves and passion for what we’re doing. Being in this negative phase is tough, and something numerous people I know (as well as myself) have been through.

I’d say it’s most common when students are halfway into their PhD. They start to question “will I have enough data to get this PhD?” and “will I be able to get it all done in the remaining time?”. An unsupportive supervisory team also makes it harder and some may experience the PhD slump due to burnout.

motivation timeline
PhD Comics

I share my experiences and advice on my Instagram account where I strive to give an honest and real feel about the PhD journey. Recently numerous people have reached out to me through social media and in person asking for help with their struggles, so what better time to share some tips…

.

My 10 top tips:


1. Acceptance

Accepting you are going through a tough phase weirdly helps to relax into it. It will help you to gain some perspective on your situation. Having this self-awareness enables you to help yourself and find ways to work your way out of it.

.

2. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness

Friends and family are wonderful, but also seek out support from your university. What support systems do they have in place? Is there a mentoring scheme where you can chat to another academic in confidence? Having an outside perspective who understands the academic system can be really useful. If you can speak to your supervisor about your troubles, then great! Having an open and honest conversation can take a big weight off your shoulders.

.

3. Focus on each day at a time

Set daily goals. Tick them off one-by-one. This will help you be productive and in turn become more motivated. It’s all about the positive feedback loop! It may take time, and it might be tough, but stick at it.

.

4. Do little things you love to stay positive

Balance out those daily tasks with rewards. It makes the working day that little bit easier. Self-care is especially important during this time, so make sure you treat yourself whether that’s with a glass of bubbles, watching your favourite movie or chilling with friends.

.

5. Exercise, sleep and eat well

Mental and physical health is so important. Be mindful of the fundamentals in leading a healthy life. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating the right food helps us to be more positive and productive.

.

6. Manage those expectations of yourself

So you’re finding things tough right now? Don’t expect yourself to be able to work like crazy! Don’t even put that pressure on yourself. Understand you, what you feel like each day, what you can realistically get done, and go back to point #3, plan each day to as you feel.

.

7. Don’t panic, think logically

Too much work, not enough time? Don’t panic, it’s not constructive! Make a list of your top priorities, your secondary priorities, and the less important ones. Plan when you’ll get the top priorities done and fit the others around them if realistically possible. Remember, a thesis is barely ever a finished story.

.

8. Stay accountable

When you’re in a rubbish phase, self-motivation is a lot harder. Let a friend know your work goal that day or week so you are accountable to someone. I recommend setting a weekly meeting with your supervisor(s) so you can discuss your plan and you don’t go off track.

.

9. Time out

We all need time off, especially if you are feeling burnt out. Take a break to go on holiday or even a long weekend. Like I said, it’s all about the self-care. It will help you to recuperate, get some energy back and give you that motivation to push out of this PhD slump.

.

10. Keep going!

I know this isn’t what people like to hear, but put all of these points into practice and really try to stick at them. Little steps each day make big progress and will really help you to feel much more positive about your PhD and your day-to-day life!

.

fullsizerender.jpg
Exploring Iceland after submitting my upgrade thesis

.

Are you in this slump right now? Have you been in it and climbed back out? What tips do you have to go from being negative about your PhD to positive? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

.

blog-signature

.

♥ Follow my blog to get notified on fresh content! Just enter your email above.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn to follow my science life.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Advertisements

Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Making it Mindful: Dr. Chrissy Jones

Since starting my blog I’ve interacted with so many other inspiring scientists, and I want to share their amazing journeys in STEM with you guys. I’m therefore thrilled to introduce my new feature – Scientist Showcase!

For the very first feature we have the beautiful Chrissy behind the Making it Mindful blog. I absolutely love what she writes about, in fact she was one of my nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award, so naturally I’m super excited to introduce you to her!

IMG_3629

Chrissy is a lecturer in Pharmacy Practice and research associate at The University of Manchester. She studied Psychology for her undergrad and masters degree, and during this time was introduced to the world of pharmacy through training to be a pharmacy dispenser. This all lead to her PhD combining both Psychology and Pharmacy. She’s a massive lover of Britney Spears and speaks fluent Welsh, how cool is that?!

.

Tell us a little more about your research

My research explores how and why procedures are bypassed or deviated from in community pharmacy. In my PhD I conducted 13 focus groups to understand what the prevailing safety culture looks like in pharmacies. I then interviewed pharmacy frontline staff to ask them about specific instances of where they had bypassed or deviated from procedures and their reasons for doing so. Finally, I created a questionnaire based on a novel psychological theory to further understand the behavioural drivers for bypassing or deviating from procedures on a larger scale. In 2016 I had a paper published which was a huge milestone for me.

Day in the life montage
Day in the life of Chrissy

So why a blog on mindfulness?

I’m a psychologist by background, I was fascinated by how the human mind works. However, the reason I got into mindfulness was because I was suffering from health anxiety a few years ago, following an asthma diagnosis. The constant anxious thoughts of “what if I have an asthma attack?” were completely exhausting. In an effort to become less anxious I looked into meditation and was astounded by it! I had a few seconds of complete silence in my mind. It was such a relief after the constant chatter of anxious thoughts. Since then I’ve tried to bring mindfulness into my daily life as it helps me to stay present rather than worrying about a future event that might never happen. I therefore love writing about practical ways to use mindfulness. I also wrote a few posts about what it felt like to be at certain stages of my PhD. PhDs can be isolating, so to hear people say that they felt the same way too was really comforting.

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 22.29.33

How can we be more mindful?

When you find your mind wandering come back to your senses. What can you hear right now? What can you see? This helps to ground us in the present and to experience life as it is happening. Often our daily tasks like having a shower and driving to work can be done on autopilot. Commit to noticing what it feels like to do these tasks. Appreciate the moment and find joy in the mundane everyday tasks. This small change can lead to a big difference, and help to stop the feeling that life is passing you by.

.

Maintaining a work-life balance is vital. How do you balance the two?

I love spending time with my family and friends, and I always make sure that I have something to look forward to in my diary. It helps me to schedule my time and motivates me to complete tasks so that I can really enjoy my down time without worrying about work.

IMG_3630
Graduating from her PhD at The University of Manchester

I see you’re passionate about inspiring young girls?

My mum always told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I am passionate about inspiring girls to live the life that they want rather than the life that they think they should have just because they’re a girl. In an effort to instil confidence in young people I have visited schools and presented to young women about believing in their potential. I have also been interviewed for Women in Science where I talk about how I felt during my career so far – the fears, the doubts, and the lows. With social media, things can look incredibly rosy from the outside. It’s important to show that we are all human and we all struggle sometimes.

.

A big part of my blog is to dish out PhD SOS tips. What are your dos and don’ts?!

Don’t let feeling like a fraud stop you. I would bet that everyone doing a PhD feels like an imposter at some point (check out Hugh Kearns’ work on imposter syndrome). It’s something many PhD students experience, so talk about it and look for all of the evidence that exists to show that you are worthy of being exactly where you are.

Do a PhD in a topic that you are genuinely passionate about. The years spent studying for my PhD were three of my favourite years of my life so far! I have no doubt that this was because I believed in my project, I could see the potential that the project had for making a positive difference in practice, that was what motivated me during the hard times.

IMG_3627

 

Thank you so much to Chrissy for being my first feature and taking the time to be interviewed! Please check out her amazing blog at Making it Mindful. She also shares mindful and inspiring quotes and posts on her @makingitmindful Instagram and Twitter accounts, so be sure to give her a follow!

***

Every month I’ll be showcasing another scientist so stay tuned to learn about more incredible people!

blog-signature

♥ Follow my blog to get notified on fresh content! Just enter your email above.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn to follow my science life.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award

.

In a Science World has been given the Versatile Blogger Award!

.

I was extremely surprised and flattered when I found this out whilst trying to wrap my brain around a load of statistics! Thank you so much to the awesome Sara for nominating me. It’s so humbling to know that other people are reading what I put out on my blog and social media platforms, but what’s even better is that they value the content! Receiving the acknowledgement that people appreciate my science communication efforts really does mean a lot to me. This is the first award I’ve been given for my blog, and it really does fuel my fire to carry on producing more blog posts and share my science journey. So thank you Sara, I’m very grateful!

Go and check out Sara’s wonderful Instagram and blog Neurotravels – mixing up her life as a neuroscientist and her love for exploring the world!

 .

What is this award?

The Versatile Blogger Award is all about bloggers sharing the love and supporting fellow bloggers. The award is given to those who have inspired them, convey passion through their blog and write with style.

So now it’s my turn to nominate two other amazing blogs, and of course I’ve focussed my attention to science blogs. Who could have guessed?!

 .

My nominees:

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 22.29.33

Making it Mindful

Chrissy who is behind the “Making it Mindful” blog has recently graduated with her PhD in Pharmacy at the University of Manchester (massive congratulations!), and is a keen supporter of women in STEM. PhDs are tough, and staying mentally strong is so important. I absolutely love her blog. She discusses topics including mindfulness, wellbeing, stress, having a positive mindset and she also dishes out great advice! Not everyone talks about this side of life, but mindfulness is a topic I love to read about and taking time to be more mindful can go a long way. So thank you for your unique blog!

.

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 22.51.34Dr. Of What

The “Dr. Of What” blog follows the journey of Bri, a second-year PhD student in conservation psychology. She has the aim of inspiring others through showcasing what it’s like to be a PhD student, something I strive to do myself. I absolutely love her “day in the life of” series. She’s posted many of these, showing her own life but also featuring what other PhD students get up to in a day. I think it’s a fantastic way of presenting life as a PhD student. It will undoubtedly give an insight into the PhD world for prospective students, and it’s interesting for current students like myself to see what other scientists get up to both in and out of the work environment!  

 

 

To fulfil my duty as a Versatile Blogger Award winner, it’s time to share 7 random facts about me:

.

1. I always thought I was going to be a graphic designer

I’ve always liked science but I fell in love with art & design and graphic design at school. At A-levels I studied graphic art but I lost the love and passion for it as I soon realised I was able to get that 100% in coursework for analysing all of my creative decisions. Clearly a scientist at heart! Biology was just my fourth and final subject, a why not subject. I found it so interesting, it made me curious and here I am working towards my PhD!

IMG_2938

.

2. Science communication didn’t come on my radar until I was at the end of my lab time.

… And hence why I have no laboratory updates for you in my blog! Long story short, I came close to quitting my PhD at the start of my third year (November 2015). I had a prolonged Christmas break to think about everything. I decided to stick it out, I reflected on a lot and learn a great deal about myself. As a result, I thought my experiences could help others so hello In a Science World blog, and hello PhD SOS feature!

IMG_3139.JPG

.

3. I love CrossFit and working out

It keeps me healthy and fit, both physically and mentally. Having it to look forward to at the end of the working day helps me to focus. It’s my daily treat! It gives my brain a little rest-bite and provides me with other focusses that aren’t related to the PhD work. Highly recommend it!

 

 

.

4. Chocolate has a major hold over me

I may be into fitness, and I may eat healthily most of the time… but wow do I love chocolate. It’s the only thing that would be worthwhile giving up for lent, however lent is normally over my birthday and no way am I depriving myself of chocolate birthday cake. That would be insane.

.

5. I will travel as soon as this PhD is done

I’ve never had a gap year, never had time out of education. Now I’m thinking about it that’s just madness. Undergrad led straight to my Masters of Research, which led straight into PhD (unexpectedly)! I definitely feel I need to go and seek the sun and sandy beaches to refocus and unwind. Current thoughts are travelling around Thailand. Any suggestions, let me know!

IMG_3042.JPG

.

6. I aspire to go into scientific writing/communication

I’ve decided that the laboratory and academia is not for me. Once I decided that it all seemed a little daunting. However, through blogging and writing the odd article here and there for magazines, I know that science writing and communication is the right career direction. Let’s see what the future holds.

IMG_2085.JPG

 

7. I said yes!

No, not a marriage proposal! I’ve recently been asked to do something #scicomm related (which I accepted), but I’m totally 100% scared about! I guess developing as a science communicator does involve stepping out of that wonderfully nice comfort zone now and again. More details will no doubt be coming soon!

.

***

.

Please go and check out the three blogs I’ve mentioned above, they’re all so inspiring! Being nominated for this award has provided me an opportunity to think about the blogs I really value, to show recognition of other amazing writers, and to share their hard work.

.

I absolutely love creating content for you guys. Like what you see (and read)? Please show your support by going to the top of this page and subscribing with your email address so you don’t miss a thing!

.

blog-signature

.

Follow my blog to get notified on fresh content! Just enter your email above.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn to follow my science life.

Science Diaries: The inbetweeny stage

Science Diaries: The inbetweeny stage

.

For those of you who have read my previous blog posts or follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m a PhD student and I finished all my lab work in December 2016. In my final week of running around like crazy getting everything finished up, I published a blog post called LabLife: the final week showcasing what a day in the life of a science PhD student was like.

.

With being out of the laboratory setting I thought why would people want to see a day in the life post without all the exciting experiments? But in actual fact the lab part is only one chapter of the PhD process, admittedly a very big one, but there is so much more to research than running experiments! There’s a lot of data handling, image processing, statistics and thesis/publication writing to do as well before we get awarded that Dr title! So I feel that this side of PhD life is important to show to those thinking of going into research, or for current researchers who like to have a nose at what others get up to!

.

So where am I at with my PhD?

Little bit of background: my research is all to do with Are you what your mother ate? I investigate how maternal diets (high-fat and vitamin D deficient) during pregnancy alter the baby’s muscle function in later life. In terms of experiments I carried out long contractile studies to test the peak force generated by the muscles, and I’ve carried out staining techniques to visualise the different types of muscle fibres and also the amount of fat accumulated in the muscle samples (changes can alter muscle function). This all means a lot of files, a lot of microscope images… and a lot of time sitting analysing all of these. I call this the inbetweeny phase – lab work is over but thesis writing isn’t quite on the radar!

It took me ages to analyse the different types of muscle fibres in all my samples as this involved counting and drawing around 1000s and 1000s of cells. That finally got done (yay!) and then I moved onto quantifying the amount of lipid accumulation in the samples. Admittedly I struggled for a while with focus and motivation (useful tips here!) as for a very active person sitting all day every day and doing the same thing day-in day-out is hard! I was also juggling other exciting science communication opportunities so it took a little longer than planned. BUT that analysis has now been completed and here is another post in the Science Diaries…

.

.

FullSizeRender 13

Alarm goes off at 6:15am. Surprisingly I was pretty good on the snooze front! I have a little scroll through Instagram and Twitter to wake myself up properly and to see what’s going on in the science world. I’m so much more productive in the mornings so I’ve been trying to shift my working day earlier. Top tip: playing to your strengths makes working so much more effective!

.

FullSizeRender 17

6:32am: Breakfast time, my favourite meal. My good ol’ trusty protein porridge to give those brain cells their much needed energy for a day in front of the computer clicking some buttons.

.

FullSizeRender 11

8:10am: Today was an on-call day for me. For a little extra cash now my PhD funding is over (super sad, I know), I process placentas when women give birth who are consented to the NiPPeR study. The study is all about nutritional intervention before and during pregnancy to maintain healthy glucose levels and offspring health. I do my 10 minute round route to check for any deliveries throughout the day. If there is a placenta my job is super simple, cut some chunks of placenta and umbilical cord, and freeze them for another scientist to analyse in the future.

.

FullSizeRender 15

9:04am: Getting through more oil red O analysis. This was the technique I used to stain my muscle samples so any fat/lipid in the tissue was stained red. I previously took multiple photos of each sample with a fancy microscope and I’m now using a programme called Fiji Image J to get the images ready for lipid area quantification. I want to know the total muscle tissue area and how much of that is made up by lipid. It’s a pretty long process, and not the most exciting!

.

FullSizeRender 18

11:00am: Tea break. Like I mentioned in my top 10 PhD survival tips, caffeine is an important necessity when it comes to doing a PhD.

.

img_1603

11:34am: Tea break over and time to check Twitter and emails before carrying on with the oil red O image analysis. Got a lot of work on and need to keep focussed? Top tip: don’t open up your emails first thing in the morning, this can put you onto a different path than you were planning on for your days work. Limit those distractions. Is it really that important that the email can’t wait until a few hours in?

.

FullSizeRender 16

1:15pm: Super duper happy as my image processing is done and now it’s time to run my macro to generate my oil red O data. I select all my files, I press “run” on the macro (piece of code I wrote telling the computer programme what to do) and I sit and wait for the computer to do its thing. How wonderful!

.

img_1610

4:43pm: After the computer gave me the numbers I wanted, I compiled all the data into a spreadsheet… and voila graphs! Science is funny, after many weeks of lab work and many days of analysis I get four graphs (each row showing the same data, just a different format). Annoyingly some of the results aren’t what I hoped for (that’s science for you) but some data (third row down in particular) is really intriguing when considering some of my other data, so that’s pretty cool!

.

img_1612

6:31pm: The daily CrossFit workout done – heavy deadlifts and some running. Time for drinks and food with friends. Accomplishing my work goal means guilt-free treats! Exercising and socialising is so important for that work-life balance, it means your life isn’t all about work and gives your body and mind that much needed time out.

.

***

 

What stage are you at in your PhD/science career?

Is there anything about life in science/academia you’d like to know more about?

Comment below!

.

blog-signature

.

Follow my blog! Just click the link in the side bar above.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn

Restoring the work-life balance

Restoring the work-life balance

.

Work life balance – something everyone needs! However, many PhD students or researchers in academia struggle to maintain this. There are different groups of people: those that wrap themselves up in their science bubble, those that allow their social life and other commitments to become priority, and those that do actually have this nice equilibrium of work and life. So, where do you fit in? Do you have the balance just right? Or is this something you need to work on?

Scales x3

.

It is so important for us PhD students to have a good balance. A PhD is by no means an easy ride, your social life and mental well-being is just as important as your work productivity – no matter what your supervisors say! Working faster and harder is not always conducive to good quality work, whether that’s in the lab or writing a thesis.

.

All work = brain overload = reduced efficiency & productivity = unhappy

.

My PhD has been full of ups and downs, but on the positive side I feel that I’ve learnt a lot, both about myself but also how to manage certain situations. I’ve also become even more aware of the importance of having a good work-life balance. So please don’t let PhD take over your life! I know I work hard, but I also know that having time off is vital for my well-being and consequently how productive I am at work.

.

***

.

Top tips

.

Feel like you’re all work and no play? Here are some tips for restoring your balance.

.

Focus and get the work done

watch-pipette-colour

Working all day and all evening on PhD is admirable but how many of those 12 hours are you actually being productive? Working all day tends to be associated with procrastination. Planning your work and setting deadlines is so important. It gives structure to the day/week and ticking of those items on the daily to-do list feels great! Plan your work but also set time aside for your non-work plans. Doing this means you have a certain portion of your day to work hard and be productive, but have play time too. Check out my previous post “How to get your focus and motivation back” for more tips.

.

Manage expectations

In research we get results, they lead to further questions, and supervisors will think up more experiments for you to do. This becomes a cycle and you get to the point where you have so many experiments to do but not enough time, so be realistic, can you keep saying yes to more work? Some supervisors will have your well-being in mind, but some will be focussed on maximum data for those papers. It is okay to say no that can’t be done right now – be aware of how much work you can take on without compromising your well-being and still having a balanced life. This leads me onto…

Scan2

.

Prioritisation

Prioritisation is key. Feel like you have too much to do or too much that you want to do? Weigh up what you REALLY NEED to do and the things you REALLY WANT to do. Inbetween bits can wait. Prioritising is key to balance. Get the work done, enjoy life but don’t feel over busy causing yourself unneeded stress.

.

Hobbies and socialising

Find a hobby, even if it’s just going for a walk every evening to get out of that desk chair. Exercise is ideal. I CrossFit most week day evenings which is a great way to unwind and clear the mind, especially after a day of image analysis and writing! Make time to socialise too. Meet your friends at the pub or for dinner, socialising is important for mental health and gives that PhD brain a much needed break.

.

Don’t just live for the weekend

Get out and have fun in the weekday evenings! Self-care is not just for the weekends. Don’t work 12 hours a day during the week with your hobbies and social life left to the weekend. This just leads to burnout, after all, how productive are you really being at the end of a normal 8 hour working day? My guess, not very. So have fun!

.

Holidays

IMG_0812

You can’t be thinking about and doing science 24/7 no matter how much you love what you do or how much your supervisors would love you to! Having ‘you time’ in the week is important, but so is having a proper holiday with a solid one or two weeks off. This gives your mind and body a much needed rest, allows you to de-stress and regain focus and motivation. It is ok to take holiday, everyone is entitled to it, and don’t even think about checking those emails!

.

***

.

The unexpected hold-ups

Admittedly getting this work-life balance is not always as easy as following those tips. Doing a PhD comes with its moments of intense work that are unavoidable such as endless long animal experiment days, and all scientists will run into those unexpected hold-ups when experiments don’t go to plan and the lab day is extended. When you are faced with these moments, allow yourself those guilty pleasures to make the day easier. And remember, this isn’t every day!

.

***

.

Whether you’re a workaholic or you allow your social life to take over, try to put these tips into practice and allow yourself to have a good work-life balance!

 

Do you struggle to get the balance right? Do you have any more advice? Please comment below as I would love to hear what you have to say!

blog-signature

 

Follow my blog! Just click the link in the side bar above!

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Women in Science: #wearestemsquad

Women in Science: #wearestemsquad

.

One fact about the science world is that women are not represented equally in occupations related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Although the number on women in STEM has increased over the past few years, most recent statistics from the WISE campaign (a campaign for gender balance within STEM) revealed that women only make up 14.4% of the UK STEM workforce.

.

Women_StemOccupations_Nov15-web

.

  • Only 33% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs progress into a STEM A-level (or equivalent qualification).
  • Only 7% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs study a STEM qualification in Higher Education (or equivalent).
  • 50% of STEM undergraduates are female.
  • But only 17% of senior academics in the EU are female.

.

The-STEM-Education-Pipelines

.

The gender gap in the STEM workforce could be due to many different reasons. Many women in academia have to consider when a good time to start a family is. Time out of academia immediately puts that career path of post-doc to professor on hold. There are now numerous organisations campaigning for a gender balance in the world of STEM.

Since I’ve started this blog I’ve come across some really supportive communities for female researchers, particularly through social media. There is a wealth of Instagram accounts specifically showcasing the research and lives of women in STEM all across the globe which have been fascinating to look at.

.

The STEM Squad

IMG_4227

Throughout the month of March The STEM Squad launched a photo-a-day challenge for all women and girls in STEM on Instagram. This involved posting a photo related to a different topic each day and adding the hashtag #wearestemsquad. The STEM Squad is a supportive community for all women and girls working (or just enthusiasts!) in STEM. This challenge gave loads of women across the world an opportunity to share various aspects of their lives with others.

In case you don’t have Instagram, or haven’t seen already, here are my #wearestemsquad photo-a-day posts! Take a look to see what I get up to in and out of the PhD world…

.

Day 1: “Me”

1. Me

This is me, Lisa, a final year PhD student at The University of Southampton UK. Over three years of lab work done and now time to write up all of those results into a beautifully large thesis! I’ve recently started science blogging so check out the link in my bio! Follow me to keep up to date with my journey through PhD and science, and for future blog posts.

.

Day 2: “History”

2. History

Here’s a throwback to my masters graduation and a little bit about how I got to where I am now.

My first memory of being interested in science was when my parents took me to @Bristol Science Centre. One of the exhibitions was having a go at being a weather girl and from that moment it was all I wanted to be! But it wasn’t until my A levels that I decided Biology was my thing. My science journey started off by doing a Physiology degree and then a Masters of Research in Maternal and Fetal Health at The University of Manchester. I loved the pregnancy and developmental research, and had this amazing group of people with me all the way through.

The advert for my PhD popped up and I immediately knew that was what I wanted to research, so here I am at The University of Southampton studying developmental physiology and in my final year. My PhD journey has been a tough one and I’ve decided that academia is not for me. I enjoy the writing side of the PhD so hello new science blog and although it’s early days, I absolutely love working on it! I’m now looking into jobs in scientific/medical writing and I am so happy to have found an area which allows me to combine by love for science, writing and creativity.

.

Day 3: “Field”

3. Field
My PhD is all centred around the question “Are you what your mother ate?“. I’m investigating how various diets (high-fat and vitamins D deficient) during pregnancy affect the development, structure and function of the baby’s skeletal muscle function in later life.

.

Day 4: “Inspiration”

4. Inspiration

My PhD has not been the easiest journey. There was a time when I wanted to quit so badly but my friends encouraged me to stick with it through the tough times. They are the ones that gave me hope, told me not to give up and that good things will come from completing this PhD. I am so thankful they did. I will get this PhD and I already have exciting opportunities coming my way.
I learn a lot from my friends, both in work and life situations. It’s those friends who inspire me.

.

Day 5: “Reading”

5. Reading

I am currently reading “The 4-hour work week” which has already taught me some good tips on how to be productive, and how to see work/life balance in a different light.
Next on my list “The Telomere Effect”, the science behind telomere length (part of our chromosomes that determine how fast our cells age) and how we can look after them to slow down the ageing process. Excited to read this one!

.

Day 6: “Workspace”

6. Workspace

Having the luxury of working from home this morning. Now I’m out of the lab it’s good to mix my workspace up from time to time. Little bit of the office, little bit of home comforts and the occasional coffee shop visit!

.

Day 7: “Equipment”

7. Equipment

Throughout my PhD I’ve used a lot of different equipment from my electrophysiology muscle contraction setup to open field activity monitors to assess behaviour. But now it’s lab gloves off and time to blast through this image analysis and write my thesis! All I need is my laptop, earphones to listen to science and fitness podcasts (helps me with endless analysis!), and glasses so I can actually see what I’m doing!

.

Day 8: “Routine”

8. Routine

My normal week day involves eat, work, eat, little more work, bit of scicomm, exercise and socialise, eat, sleep!
I love CrossFit and Wednesdays are always for gymnastics class. Today’s session was progressions to get that strict muscle up. Muscle up, I will get you in 2017.

.

Day 9: “Home”

I grew up and spent my whole childhood in a town just outside Bristol. I love going back for the odd weekend to get away from the PhD bubble and spend quality time with my friends and family.
Things are now changing, my parents have just moved to Brussels for the next three years but Bristol will always be my home. I am so lucky to have a lot of close friends living back there after we all went separate ways for university. My home girls, I love you!

.

Day 10: “Details”

10. Details

As a physiologist I love to learn about the finer details on how our amazing bodies work. I’m also mindful about my nutrition. Getting the right foods in my body sets me up for a productive day, I need that all important brain power at work (this thesis won’t write itself!) and I need the energy to be strong when I workout in the evenings. I do my best to stick to the right proportion of macros (carbs, protein, fat) each day. A typical breakfast for me looks like this:
– 40g porridge oats
– 1 scoop whey protein powder
– 160ml coconut milk
– cod liver oil
– multivitamin
– big glass of water
Having awareness of the nutritional details is one factor that keeps me fit and healthy.

.

Day 11: “Unwind”

11. Unwind

Yoga is a new thing for me and I couldn’t recommend it enough for relaxing and unwinding after a day of work. Absolutely love my one-to-one sessions with my lovely friend Fran.

.

Day 12: “Creativity”

12. Creativity

My main creative outlet is for my science blog. I love doodling on a piece of paper and turning my drawings into illustrations to make my blog more personal and unique.

.

Day 13: “Goals”

13. Goals

I can’t recommend setting yourself goals for the year enough! The feeling of ticking each one off throughout the year is just great. They give you focus and makes you realise how much you can accomplish. Read my blog post on how to go about setting yourself goals.

.

Day 14: “Materials”

14. Materials

What would I have done without my trusty pipettes?! They were there throughout the long animal studies, many PCRs and those months of immunohistochemistry work. Time for a new owner now because lab work, I am done with you!

.

Day 15: “Methods”

15. Methods

A little bit of training with a side order of caffeine. These are two ways which help me stay focussed during my PhD.
Exercise: it’s a great stress reliever, it gives those hard working brain cells a break and keeps you healthy. Don’t let PhD become your life. Go for some runs, join a team sport, throw heavy weights around. I love picking up those weights and practising my handstand holds at CrossFit Solent most evenings after a day of work!
Caffeine: a saviour during those sleepy moments at my desk. I’m pretty sure most PhD students have discovered the wonders of caffeine!

.

Day 16: “Memory”

16 Memory

It’s good to reflect on things from time to time. I have so many amazing memories with all my amazing friends and family. Lots of exciting plans this year, and many more memories to be made.

.

Day 17: “Food”

17. Food

I’m all about the meal prep. It means I stay healthy (most of the time!), eat the right foods for me and spend as little time as possible cooking in the week when I’m PhDing. Less time cooking also means more time to do those extra things in life I love. As I’m posting this I’m having all the cookie cravings!

.

Day 18: “Colour”

18. Colour

It’s all about having a colourful fitness wardrobe!

.

Day 19: “Break”

19. Break

Everyone needs a break from work, especially from all the stresses and pressures of doing a PhD. I’m not one to work on my thesis every weekend, and today was a day of friends, food and the coast.

.

Day 20: “Now”

20. Now

I’m in work and planning what I want to achieve this week as we speak. Setting yourself daily and weekly goals helps to keep you focused. Stay tuned for my blog post on keeping focussed and motivated during a PhD.

.

Day 21: “Writing”

21. Writing

This week I’m planning and writing a new blog post for my “PhDLife” feature. This one is all about keeping that focus and motivation we all struggle with from time to time. It’s going to be published this Thursday and will be packed full of advice so keep your eyes peeled!

.

Day 22: “Organisation”

22. Organisation

Being organised is all about having a good filing system, neat lab books and planning out your days and weeks in a diary. My cute fluffy fat cell is always there watching over me and keeping everything in check!

.

Day 23: “Fact”

23. Fact

It’s been 3 years since I graduated from my Masters of Research in Maternal and Fetal Health at The University of Manchester, and today I found out our paper has been accepted for publication! So happy right now!

.

Day 24: “Fiction”

24. Fiction

Definition: “describes imaginary events”. It’s great to have aspirations and dreams in life, but we have to put in the hard work to take them from our imagination to our reality. Imagine it, then create it.

.

Day 25: “Fun”

25. Fun

Had all the fun soaking up the sunshine rays today… summer is slowly on its way.

.

Day 26: “Numbers”

26. Numbers

So Friday marked the end of the CrossFit Open 2017, and here are some numbers to throw at you!
3 = third time I’ve done the Open
1 = first time doing all workouts Rx
17.1 = 219 reps
17.2 = 78 reps
17.3 = 38 reps
17.4 = 151 reps
17.5 = 19 mins 23 sec
This weekend has been all about active recovery, enjoying the sunshine and drinking tea.

.

Day 27: “Communication”

27. Communication

One important aspect of science is being able to communicate research findings effectively. Travelling and presenting my PhD work at various conferences has been so rewarding. They have without a doubt developed me as a science communicator. Now my attention turns to scientific writing, so let’s see where this journey takes me.

.

Day 28: “Diversity”

28. Diversity

One of the things my transfer thesis examiners were happy about was the wide range of techniques I had used in the lab. I’ve done a lot in my PhD life… from animal dissection, to radioactive experiments, to molecular biology, to electrophysiology, to immunohistochemistry, to behavioural studies, to microscopy.

.

Day 29: “Love”

29. Love

What do I love?…. CHOCOLATE. Chocolate cake, chocolate brownies, chocolate cookies, all the chocolate. Oh and of course my friends, family, CrossFit, cycling and working on my scicomm projects!

.

Day 30: “Reflect”

30. Reflect

I think it’s great to self reflect. Life is full of fun but everyone has stresses at some point. Reflect on the things that have been tough, don’t shy away from them. Process what’s happened and think about how you can change that situation for the better. Understand you, and learn from you.
If you’re going through a tough time with your PhD then look back and reflect on all the amazing work you’ve achieved so far. You’ll surprise yourself. Check out my blog post for tips on focus and motivation. Get your sparkle back.

.

Day 31: “March on”

31. March on

It was all black for me last night as I marched my way towards birthday cocktails. I had the best day and I’m now a wonderfully young 26 year old!

.

***

.

So there’s a little insight into my personal/scientific life for you! I had a lot of fun with the #wearestemsquad Instagram challenge! It definitely got my creative brain switched on in order to reflect the 31 different topics through photography. Such a great science communication project. Even better is that it provided me with an opportunity to read about other scientist’s lives and experiences in STEM!

Are you interested in the lives of other women in STEM? Check out The STEM Squad’s Instagram page or scroll through the Instagram hashtag #wearestemsquad.

.

blog-signature.

Follow my blog! Just click the link in the side bar above!

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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’.

Scan2

#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!

Scan2

#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!

happy

#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!

stages-of-procrastination2

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.

Scan1

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.

Scan2

Exercise

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

brain

 

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.

Scan1

***

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!

blog-signature

♥ Follow my blog to get notified on fresh content! Just enter your email above.

Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn to follow my science life.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin