Loughborough PhD Social & Support Network

The First Month of My PhD; or, How I’ve Already Failed

At the time of writing, I have just completed my first month as a PhD student. Here are some of my thoughts so far.

I’m in the School of Arts, English, and Drama, which occupies a substantial section of the top part of the campus map. I work in an office with only a few other PhD students, most of whom are wrapping up their theses and never seem to feel compelled to check Facebook.

While I couldn’t ask for better officemates, working alongside such diligent researchers makes it easy to forget that the campus has a lot more to offer than just academics. I have been told repeatedly that one needs to have a life outside of one’s PhD. Balance, everyone stresses. You need balance. My gut reaction to this is to smile and nod, and then go straight back to the office to read thirty more articles before dinner.

For my first week at Loughborough, my ‘I WILL BE THE MOST STUDIOUS STUDENT EVER!’ approach worked. I felt like I was being productive, and I wondered how someone would need more than three years to complete a thesis like this.

And then I hit that dreaded researcher’s block wall – pretty darn hard. Hard enough to start asking myself what I was thinking when I thought I could write 80,000 words that people would care to read. There I was, only on my second week, and I already felt like I had failed.

Naturally, I began looking for distractions. Things to distance myself from the hungry-sounding thesis monster on the other side of the wall.

Hey, Leah, want to attend this LSU postgraduate social? Sounds kind of fun. Fine.

What about this Computer Science seminar? The only thing I know how to do with a computer is turn it on and off, but alright.

Want to train for Loughborough’s five-kilometre Santa Run? I don’t even like running, but sure.

I kept going to my office every day, and kept plunking away on the computer to put some thoughts into a Word document, but all of a sudden I found my evenings filled with things that had nothing to do with my thesis. I started to look forward to research groups and seminars, eager to see what my peers were up to. The evenings that my running group spent circling rugby pitches became a welcome social break.

A few days ago, I received surprisingly positive feedback on a paper I submitted to my supervisors. These were words I had written in my ‘distraction’ phase, when I had temporarily prioritised the running group over my thesis. During that time, I had managed to unknowingly write something I’ve become immensely proud of, even if it still needs some work.

So maybe there is something to that balance thing people keep harping about.

My first feeling of failure hit me a week after I’d begun my PhD. Likely, more feelings of failure will hit as I get further along in my research. However, the failure I felt this early on was entirely due to the pressures that I put on myself to imitate my officemates, to be what I thought was the perfect PhD student.

But there is more to Loughborough than just academics. There are running groups to join, seminars to attend (often with free food!), and friends to be made. Of course, a PhD student’s academic work should always come first, but sometimes it takes more than just one person to jump over a wall and defeat a thesis monster.

Leah Henrickson

 

Leah Henrickson

Doctoral Researcher at Loughborough University

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