External pressure is a difficult issue to overcome particularly if you have parents, a partner or friends who have no experience with further postgraduate research. It appears to make the process a whole lot harder – not just managing your workload but also constant questioning about “when are you going to get a real job?” and “what are you going to do when you finish?” Unfortunately for me this is somewhat of an everyday occurrence in my household and so I write this blog from particular experience. The questioning gets tiresome, yes, and I imagine there are countless PhD students who are going through the same thing. I try my best to brush it off, but I think that they think I just sit around all day watching Jeremy Kyle re-runs whilst eating my way through chocolate biscuits – ok maybe the latter.
Doing a PhD can be the cause of relationship breakdowns. It’s difficult to find someone who is completely understanding of what you do and the mental exhaustion which takes place – and that at certain times you probably can’t go and watch that film or go for that meal because a PhD takes over your life. I have been incredibly fortunate in that I have a supportive girlfriend who has been fantastically understanding. But sometimes, particularly regarding certain friends I have and when both PhD and relationships collide, the fallout can be pretty catastrophic – the PhD is like a boa constrictor; it strangles what life you have out of you (but there is such thing as a work-life balance and I will cover this in the next blog post in this series).
This shows that having a supportive network around you can work wonders as the external influences on your life getting on your back can often be as difficult as the mental torture of doing a PhD. What do I say to my parents now? To be honest I just keep saying that I will submit when I feel ready to do so and when I am happy with the work and that I will start searching for jobs once I have submitted and not before as I cannot deal with the distraction. I think you have to be firm if you are experiencing a similar situation to me. I also found that counselling really helped and I know that sometimes it has a reputation for being for those who are severely mentally ill, but it’s not. It helped me to deal with everything that was happening in my life and to particularly surround myself with those who support me the most.
Dr Andrew Rowe
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