Mondays

It’s Monday, and I owe you a blog post.

Alas, it has been a rollercoaster for the last ten days and my emotions are simmering at interesting levels (either boil or off). It makes concentration rather difficult. In an effort to take some time, I ran off to a campground for a couple of days and managed to exhaust myself so much I’m still barely able to stay awake and I’ve been back for 24 hours (and slept for 9). Sometimes ‘getting away’ doesn’t always have the affect you hoped.

But I need to write something, and what better to write about (instead of the post on methodologies) than what to do when Real Life interferes with your PhD.

First, it’s okay to stop. Stop whatever you are doing and access the situation. Is the interruption something that will be a few days long? Or is it something that might seriously undermine the next year or more of your PhD? (Sick parent, pregnancy, severe illness, etc). How long the interruption will be has a big effect on how you should deal with that interruption.

I know people who seem – for some reason beyond comprehension – to believe that if they do not work every single weekday of their PhD life they are doing it wrong. I think we’ve had a lengthy conversation about work schedules already (see here and here), so please believe me when I say that if Real Life interferes for a week or two, just let it. Go deal with your RL issue and then get back to your PhD when you’re in the right frame of mind. A couple of weeks are not going to break you (or your thesis). And if it happens right before a deadline, immediately have a conversation with the people who set the deadline about changing it/moving it. Everyone in academia understands that there can be things that will interrupt research, but unless you are open about it, people are going to assume everything is fine.

If the break needs to be longer (for instance, if you were diagnosed with an illness that needed treatment or surgery), then be very upfront about this with your advisors. Talk to people. Tell them what is happening, what the expected outcome is, how long it might last. It is probably best to take either sick leave (if that’s an option for you) or a sabbatical (which will be an option if you’ve never taken one before). If you are a foreign student in a country, then you need to think about visa issues. Likely, you’ll have to return home because many countries don’t want you to stay if you aren’t a full-time current student, and sabbaticals mean you aren’t technically a student – but taking a break from being a student. Keep this in mind, but if this is the only reason you can’t take a sabbatical, you probably need to access how much time you are going to be away from your PhD. A couple of weeks is fine, a couple of months is going to be problematic. But don’t let that stop you taking the time. For whatever reason you need it.

I know people who have had to take time away, and they worry about ‘getting back to it’. If you are passionate enough to want to do a PhD, you’ll find that passion again, even after a time away. And, in fact, time away may actually help. As I’ve said, I took a short sabbatical from my own work, and it’s the only reason I was able to come back and finish the thesis. I needed that break for mental health reasons.

But whatever part of RL that interferes with your PhD, it’s all right. It happens. You aren’t a failure. You aren’t bad at this. You aren’t a sorry excuse for a PhD student. RL happens. We like to think it doesn’t, because we like to think that academia is RL for us, but being a student puts you slightly outside of the norm, and things do interfere with being a student in a different way than they would if – for instance – you were full-time employed as a professor. Then you can take grievance absences, sick days, sabbaticals, and it’s sanctioned. As PhDs, you fall somewhere outside this spectrum, and you have to realise that although that doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to the same sort of thing, you might have to come about it in a different way (take a break from your PhD, instead of a sabbatical, for example).

But a sick mother, or an illness of your own, or the death of a loved one back home are the most important thing. The PhD should come second when these things happen. Just like work would come second.

I am reminding myself of this because I have done absolutely no work in the last 10 days. And that’s okay. I feel guilty because it’s a default reaction, not because I actually should feel bad. I shouldn’t. I’m taking the time I need to and I’ll get back to work as soon as possible.

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Work Experience

Okay, this is mostly pessimistic and horribly realistic, but I am not going to apologize. It’s the way the economy, society, and the humanities are now, and acknowledging that and preparing for it are the best ways to get on with your career.

I’m in the humanities. Which means it’s really hard to talk from the point of view of STEM subjects. They are vastly different in how they are set up, and how work is oriented, and how jobs are acquired. If you are doing a STEM PhD (or MA, or work in STEM) you’re going to be much more familiar with how things work than I am. Take all of this with a grain of salt and use your own knowledge and colleagues.

Everyone touts work experience nowadays. You hear it literally everywhere. In universities, in colleges, in high school, in business, in news articles. Kids are bombarded with ‘get work experience!’ slogans. It will run through your life until you are high enough in the working world that are either permanently employed, or so experienced you don’t think in terms of ‘gaining’ it, but of already having it.

But what is it? No, seriously, what is it? Because it’s not just one thing. It’s not just a single definition and, check, I’ve got it! Because that would be easy.

Work experience means ALMOST ALWAYS paid work. There are a few times this is not true, and volunteering or unpaid internships will count, but basically, they mean experience you have acquired by being paid for work.

Getting paid work experience without having work experience is one of those brilliant chicken and egg scenarios that destroys people’s psyches and is so disheartening that people give up careers.

You must have work experience to apply for this job. [That experience must be paid.] This is common in almost all job advertisements in the humanities. No one wants to hire someone without work experience, because it’s too much trouble to train someone. We’ll leave aside that almost every job will require training anyways, but companies think it’s easier to train someone who’s worked in the field before than someone who hasn’t (I argue how true this is, but it doesn’t matter what I think; I don’t hire people).

So how do you GET the paid work experience?

I wish I could tell you. I wish there was a brilliant work around to this problem, like a hack, and ‘poof!’ you will get your paid work experience. But it doesn’t work like that. If it did, a lot fewer twenty and thirty somethings would be suffering from intense stress and feelings of failure.

You gain work experience over time. This is true. You gain it over multiple jobs. This is mostly true (if it’s a great job, you can gain a lot of experience in one place). You don’t gain work experience in a month. Job applications want 2-3 years experience in most cases. If you are applying for an entry level position, it might be 12 months experience. But it’s entry level. It’s your first paid job in the field, right? Wrong. You are expected to have already worked, in an internship or placement or job shadow already.

I have volunteered for 2.5 years. Free. Weekly. In some cases, I was volunteered 15 hours a week. I usually also work a job that makes money so I can afford to live, but that job is never in my field and therefore does not count as work experience. Volunteering used to. It doesn’t seem to anymore. It’s a start, yes, but what companies really want is that illusive internship for you to have on your CV. Of course, many fields don’t have internships.

You are expected to have work experience without ever having worked. It’s ludicrous, of course, but most things in life are. Most things don’t make sense, and this is one of them.

What can you do?

You can volunteer. In your field. As soon as possible. Preferably in high school. Don’t wait until you finish undergrad to figure out what you want to do with your life. Volunteer as much as you can around jobs that pay you actual money. Try to get a paid job that has skills involved in it that will be of use to your field. So if your field requires customer service, get a customer service role, like retail, and work that for AT LEAST a few years. A few months of a job is not the sort of work experience employers look for.

Try to find an internship. If internships exist in your field, apply for them all, even if they are not paid. Keep applying until you get one. Apply early and often.

If you are in university, see what work experience your university can provide. Can you mark essays? Teach intro classes? Run tutorials? Do marketing for your department? Be a school ambassador? Universities offer a wealth of options, but you have to go looking for them; no one will tell you what they are or what use they are. Ask questions, ask people, keep your ears open, and then go after those opportunities. It’s no use saying ‘but school takes up all my time!’ No one cares about this issue anymore. You are expected to do everything in university, even if that involves 30 hour days.

[I always had projects/work I was doing while doing a full-time PhD. It sucked. It sucked a lot. There were many days I didn’t get through my to do list because there weren’t enough hours in the day, and you have to sleep eventually. But I managed to get all of it done, somehow, sometime. And I have a host of things on my CV besides ‘PhD’, many of which are now coming in very handy for freelancing.]

Balancing work-life-sanity is hard. It gets harder the further into university you go. It’s why mental health is such an issue in universities and amongst early career professionals. When you do a PhD, balancing your life is almost impossible. And if you have a life, if you have a partner and kids and a full-time job, all I can say is I am raising a glass in your honour. You people amaze me, inspire me, impress me, and put my piddling efforts to shame. Keep going, I’m here cheering you on.

If you don’t have these things to worry about, things are that little tiny bit easier, but not easy. Social engagements will still be cancelled. You will still work 24 hour days. You will go weeks without seeing or talking to friends. The PhD, and the work, come first. Everything else is a distance second. You chose to do this. But I understand. I understand exactly how hard it is to do, literally, everything. And be expected to.

But for every year that passes, people expect more of university students. Employers expect more of applicants. Business demands experience and skills that you can’t get at university. It’s why high school students are now being told to think carefully about what they want to do in their life, and whether university is the right call. I wish someone had taken more time to tell me all this 15 years ago. I might have made a different decision*.

Anyone want to share their work experiences with readers? What you’ve learned; what you wish you’d done; what worked for you? Any little secrets out there to be had…?

*In all honesty, probably not, I was too obsessed with classical history.

 

An Afternoon in the Country

There’s a theory that being out in nature is good at reducing stress. I’m not sure why anyone had to do a scientific study on this, as anyone who’s been out in nature knows it’s very peaceful and calming.

When you’re doing a PhD it’s hard to take a break. This is especially true if you’re doing it part-time and also working or raising a family (or both!) There are only so many hours in the day, as you’ve all learned. But taking those breaks and actually getting away from it all can be a very good thing.

I still relish the opportunity to get out of the house and go for long walks. So many people underestimate walking as a form of exercise, but it’s easy on your body and also burns a lot of calories, if you keep a good pace and walk far enough. And it also means you can get out in nature. I’ve been very lucky in that everywhere I’ve lived there have been places nearby to go and walk in nature. I enjoyed day hiking while in England, and I’ve started doing so again now that I’m back in Southern Ontario. Most people don’t realize, but we have hundreds of kilometres of public hiking trails in this part of the province. In fact the longest hiking trail in Canada literally crosses the road on which I live.

You may not have a trail so close, but if you have sidewalks or parks then make use of them. Take an hour off and go for a walk. Take a whole day and go for a long walk around the city in which you live. It’s an entirely different way of seeing the world and it’s very relaxing. And if you can get close to trees/grass/flowers/etc then do so, because it will calm your mind and lower your stress levels, and that’s very important while you’re doing a PhD.

 

How to assess progress

Particularly when you are self-monitoring your hours spent working. Which is really the PhD in the nutshell.

You work from home (or the office). You see your supervisor maybe once a month (or less). You don’t really talk to the other PhD students in your department, for whatever reason. You have months at a time working on a single issue: researching a new topic, writing a paper, doing your fieldwork, etc.

So how do you assess your progress?

It’s not easy. You don’t need to worry that it’s not. The PhD is an independent research project. If you’re doing the sciences, you may be lucky enough to have a project that is mainly lab based. You have a series of experiments to run. You know what those need to be; you know you need to get them done in order to move on. You know roughly how long each one will take. You know how many times you need to do them. You can make yourself a general schedule and know that if you are not sticking to it, you are falling behind.

But if you’re in the humanities, you are more likely than not to be left alone for several years at a time, with only brief moments of accountability to others (like your supervisor) and a lot of time to manage yourself.

Setting a schedule year-on-year and then breaking that down into month-by-month is the first step. But within that you are going to have projects and activities that could take weeks and you need to be able to monitor your progress. There’s no point getting to the end of your scheduled three months for researching ‘this particular topic’ and discovering that you really don’t know anything about it, haven’t read the most important book on the topic, and can’t actually define the terms the subject uses.

Trust me, been there, done that.

Let’s break this down into separate issues.

  1. How do you monitor progress when writing?

This is actually the easy one. If you have to write an article for publication, you have an idea of the length it needs to be and a deadline when you need to get it done. Those should be your two main monitoring flags. If you have a paper due to your supervisor, you have a deadline, and if you’re smart, you’ve gotten a word count/page count to write to as well. If you haven’t, ask for one. If your supervisor says ‘however many words you need’ well, set yourself a word count. If you have a month to write it, you probably don’t want that word count to be 10000, so be realistic. That’s longer than most thesis chapters (but it IS doable, if that’s your word count).

First, start with your deadline. If you have several steps to do before writing (research, etc.) then put those into your writing plan. Create a calendar with important milestones, and when you need to achieve each one to move onto the next step. And keep that deadline in mind at all times.

Then, every few days, particularly if your work isn’t going well, look at that calendar again. Do you have time to reach your next milestone at your current rate of progress? What happens if you don’t? Can your other milestones be bumped back? If not, then you need to work on your current milestone. You need to sort out what isn’t working and why. Are you confused? Are you procrastinating? Are you worried about something? If you can find the root cause, you can work to overcome it and get yourself back on track.

  1. How to monitor when researching?

Okay, the hard one. You have a new field of study, or a theory, or a subject you have to learn about as part of your PhD. You cannot leave this until the end. You need to have it researched prior to writing-up. There’s a deadline. If you think the topic will have an impact on your fieldwork, then you have another deadline. Write those into your overall PhD schedule.

It will always take longer to research than you think. You will always get distracted. Keep that in mind. Start researching. Every week or so, come up for air and look at your schedule. Look at how many books/articles/journals you’ve read. Do you feel you’re making progress? Do you have any idea how much more reading you have to do?

Start keeping notes. New terms and definitions, key theories, key authors, key works, etc. Start to form in your head an understanding of the new topic and what you conceive it to be. Don’t understand? Keep reading.

Sometimes, the best way to conceptualise something new is to try to write about it. Even if you don’t need to write a paper or article, try anyways. If you can’t write about the topic, you need to keep reading.

But don’t lose track of your schedule. Focus on the main authors in the area, and read the main articles, and if you find yourself reading an article that has only a very small amount to do with the topic, but it aside and try something else. Don’t let yourself go down those research black holes.

If you know you are going to have to read a lot of articles, don’t let yourself spend three weeks wasting time and then realise you have a week to get through everything. Be smart about it and you won’t have to worry about your progress, because you won’t easily get off track.

  1. How to monitor progress during fieldwork?

This is nearly as easy as writing, and much easier than researching. You have to plan your fieldwork out in advance. You need to know where you are going, who you are going to speak with, how many places you need for case studies. The worst thing is to wake up four months into your fieldwork and realise you are so far behind you are never going to catch up. Plan this stage of your PhD out in advance and you won’t have to worry too much about monitoring progress.

But you can get so into fieldwork that you kind of forget you have to do something after it’s all over with. If you are mainly interviewing, keep an interview schedule and don’t forget to look ahead to see how many people you have left. If you are doing other sorts of qualitative research, try to keep to your schedule as much as possible, but don’t forget to take a deep breath every few weeks and seriously critique where you are and where you need to be. How much more data do you need to collect and how much time do you have left? If you find your progress seriously impeded, you may have to reconsider the types of data collection you are doing.

If you are doing quantitative data, then this might be even harder. There’s the sense in quantitative data research that more is better, and sometimes that leads to an endless amount of collection. Remember, you have to analyse this at some point and the more you collect, the more you need to analyse. It’s useful to start off your fieldwork acknowledging how much data you usefully need to collect for your study, and try not to get too focused on ‘as much as possible’, but rather ‘this is what I need’. In your first days doing it, think about how much data you are getting, and then work this out over the long term. If you can collect this much in one day, and you have thirty days of data collection, is that enough data for your project? If not, you have probably overestimated the amount of data you need and should reassess.

A lot of monitoring progress is looking forwards and backwards and not just focusing on the now. How much have you done? How much do you (realistically) still need to do? How much can you do today? How much did you do yesterday?

Critique yourself. Be willing to admit to yourself when you are not handling things. When you are behind. And be willing to do something about it to catch up. But the key is to not get too far behind in the first place. Keep your head above water, regularly look at your schedule (have a schedule), and don’t get too bogged down in the day to day.

Setting Limits – and Why Not To

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is all about goals. Daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, novel goals, etc. It’s about having an aim and working to achieve that.

Yes, sometimes you will miss a daily goal, or a weekly goal, but if you reach your monthly goal by November 30th, then that is all you need to ‘win’.

I’ve had a pretty easy NaNoWriMo this year, so far. I’ve only had one day I failed to hit my word count, and I made it up the next day. Some days I’ve been writing until 11pm, but I’ve managed to get it done without having to cut into my precious sleep time.

But it has me thinking about how we write. Specifically, in how we set writing goals…and limits.

Those two things may sound similar, but they aren’t. You set goals as something you hope to reach. Ultimately, they are often overly optimistic goals, but the point is not to necessarily reach them so much as to convince yourself that you can. They drive you forwards, encourage and inspire.

But although goals are important for your writing, so are limits. It may sound odd to hear, if you are just starting the writing journey of your PhD, but there will be days where you get so involved in what you’re doing that you just keep going.

Through lunch, through dinner, through bathroom breaks, and through bedtime. This is not healthy, obviously.

So let me talk about limits and why you should set them, when you should set them…and when you shouldn’t.

There are going to be periods of your PhD where you are mostly writing. These may come over the course of your entire journey, or all at the end. Wherever they fall, it is important that during your ‘writing time’ that you are focused on writing first and foremost. Do not allow yourself to get distracted by other things (particularly researching, as that is a black hole you will never crawl out of). Procrastination will be part of this experience, and that’s alright, but if you find it is dominating the writing time, you will need to re-evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. And the true reason you are procrastinating.

But as well as procrastination (which we all experience) will come moments when you fall into what I call writing mode. It’s when I become so focused and in the zone I lose track of time. I lose track, in fact, of pretty much everything. Which can be a bad thing for my bladder.

You may not experience these moments very often, but you will experience them. Whether it’s trying to get the wording perfect on a certain paragraph, or getting so in the zone you decide to crack out your entire 8000 word chapter today, or your brain is running a mile a minute and if you don’t get it all down onto paper, you’ll forget it forever (usually my biggest issue).

However, even if these moments are rare, don’t allow yourself to become a slave to them. It may sound like a grand idea to crack out 8000 words today (I’ve done it myself), but in the end, this is rarely a good thing. For one, in order to write that many words, you’ll barely stop to do anything. For another, it leaves you no thinking time to craft what you are writing. And, personally, I find my hands ache A LOT after that many words.

I also find that, the next day, I tend to not get out of bed.

And this is the most important reason to set yourself limits. Because when you don’t, you run the risk of exhausting yourself. And that generally leads to procrastination, or other forms of lost work time. It may seem like a great idea to write for 12 hours today, but if that means you don’t write for the next week, you’ve done yourself a disservice. You have taken yourself away from your story/thesis/article and you are no longer in the zone. You have also drastically limited your thinking time. You will also find that, when rereading what you have written there will be a lot of editing needed. Editing is all well and good, but if it ends up involving complete rewrites, you haven’t exactly saved time.

So there are reasons to set limits, particularly when you have to knock out quite a lot of words in a set time. This may seem counter productive, but pacing yourself is the best way to win the race.

I set writing limits every time I sit down to write. Whether it’s NaNoWriMo with it’s set 1667 words a day, or when I was working on my thesis. For my thesis, I generally set limits with sections, rather than word counts. The ‘I will write this subsection today’, however long it takes.

There are a good many reasons to do this. I found that on days I was having a hard time focusing, that it gave me a goal to work towards. A realistic goal. On days where I was so in the zone I could have kept going for hours and hours, it made me stop, eat, take a bathroom break, go to the gym, and all around take some time out. Often that was thinking time about what I’d written, or what came next, but it was always important time. It also means that you can create a realistic working plan of your project, with deadlines, and know that you have a good chance of making them.

If you know you can write a 1000 word section, whatever it is on, then you can plan your writing schedule for the rest of your thesis. If you know you have to write a 7000 word chapter in May, you know how many days you need to set aside for writing, and how many can be days off, how many can be days for extra researching or referencing, and how many can be days lost to procrastination, before you end up behind.

One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that it teaches you you can do this. You can write to goals. And it also teaches you you can write to limits. I find most people get very good at it. If they know they need 1667 words today…they’ll usually write about 1670. I can generally stop myself in the middle of a paragraph to hit the right count, and know that I am in the middle of something I will be encouraged to continue tomorrow. This is one of the key suggestions to overcome writer’s block – always stop in the middle….

***

See?

I have not forgotten about the last part of this blog – when not to set limits. Sometimes you will just need to get on with things, and then it is best to set goals – to be optimistic rather than realistic. Sometimes you may just want to let your writing zone take over, usually after a lot of careful thinking and planning time, when you know what you need to do and just need to get on with writing it.

You will probably have moments when you don’t know whether you need to set a limit or a goal, or both. You can only learn this from practice.

But although goals are important, don’t make them impossible, and remember that setting limits might actually help you more. And if you find you’ve been sitting at your computer for seven hours without a bathroom break…it’s probably time to set yourself a limit, if only for the sake of your body.

 

 

What Does Work Look Like?

A PhD’s a weird thing. Well, a dissertation in any format is a weird thing, whether that’s your undergrad thesis or your MA dissertation. Or your PhD.

There’s the parts you know about: reading articles/books/reports, doing field work, analyzing data, meeting your supervisors, taking part in department events, going to conferences, writing your chapters, etc.

Then there’s the part no one seems to know about when they start.

You will spend an inordinate amount of time doing seemingly nothing.

Before you laugh at me, or hit your browser’s back button, give me a minute.

I said seemingly. You are, of course, doing something, it just doesn’t look like it to an outside observer. This is the hardest part of the PhD work. Because, at the end of an eight-hour day you have nothing to show for it. Nada. Niente. You have no words on your computer. You have no prettily highlighted articles. You have no data graphs.

Everything you have is in your head and you can’t for the life of you show that to anyone.

But that’s okay, because it’s in your head. Most of your PhD will be in your head. However you write, some of your thesis will exist in your head before you ever put it down on paper/computer. That’s normal. It does not mean you have done no work today. If all you did today was put 2 and 2 together and get 4, then congrats. You’ve had a good day; go out and celebrate (or stay in and celebrate).

I had days and days and days I had nothing to show for myself except things in my head. Some days, the only work I did was working an issue/question/data point out in my head. Or spending a week really pinning down exactly how I understand such and such a theory and how it relates to my PhD.

Reading is great. Do lots and lots of that. But what you read has to be good for something, and you can’t just read an article and go ‘done!’ and move on. You have to sit (or stand or lie) down and think about how that article relates to your research. How can you incorporate it into your topic? Where does it fit into your chapters? How does it impact your field work? Thinking has no obvious output, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

It makes it more valid. So go on, think away. It’s the only way your going to work everything out anyways. And if, by the end of the day, you don’t have a single thing to show for it, smile. You still had a good day’s work.

[If you are like me and you are a ‘plan ten time, do once’, then you probably wrote your entire thesis in your head before you got it onto paper. Which means, you spent A LOT of hours seemingly doing nothing. That’s okay. At the end of the day, you spent as much time working on your thesis as anyone else. It just means that, instead of rewriting your chapters 15 times, you probably only did it 2 or 3. But before that, you spent months thinking up the perfect phrasing for that paragraph in Chapter 4. Which is good, because you’re particularly proud of that phrasing.]

How Many Hours, or How Few?

Because timing is everything, someone raised this issue over on the How To Survive Your PhD edX course, and I figured, since I answered it there, I’d answer it here.

I’ve encountered more than a few PhD students from various universities/departments who are given guidelines when they first start. Things like: ‘you should be working 15 hours a week’ (part-time), or ‘this is a full-time job, and the hours should be as such’.

The thing is, a PhD is not a job. Yes, you might be one of those lucky ones that gets paid for it (plenty of us actually pay to do a PhD, rather than get paid for one), but that does not mean that it’s the 9-5 job your parents had. This is academia. In a nutshell, that means there are no set working hours. If it takes you 56 hours a week to do the work you need to do that week then…you have a 56 hours working week. If it only takes you 20 hours to do it, fantastic.

So when your university department tells you how many hours a week they expect you to work on your PhD, treat it as a guideline, rather than a rule. Everyone works differently. In undergrad, I had friends who researched and wrote their papers over the course of one day (the day before it was due) and still got an A. I usually spent about two weeks writing my papers. That does not mean my paper was better than theirs, because I had spent more time on it. Writing, like most creative pursuits, really has nothing to do with time.

[Though practice does make perfect, if you are struggling to develop the writing technique.]

I found that, some weeks, I worked barely 10 hours on my PhD. Sometimes it was because I had work outside my thesis. Other times it was because there was a conference. Sometimes I had duties in my department or on campus that took several days. These things happen. I spent most of my PhD stressed and feeling guilty for not doing 40+ hours of work on it a week. Which is ridiculous, of course, but guilt doesn’t really care about what’s reasonable. It took me until into my 3rd year before I stopped worrying about it, and that was simply because sanity took over. What was the point of lying awake at night feeling bad about the fact I had only done 3 hours today instead of 7, when I could be getting a good night’s sleep in order to do more hours the next day.

Sanity prevails a lot in year 3. Mostly it’s because you just hit the ‘I don’t care anymore’ wall and the only way over/around/under it is to let go off all those things you did in your first couple of years that were useless. Like feeling guilty and worrying about how many hours you weren’t working.

So, my advice to you, from a completed PhD student who worked several contract jobs, did monthly duties in my department, mentored other students, still travelled and took days off, and wrote a bloody novel while being a PhD student: work however many hours you can OR however many hours you need to to reach your deadline. If that means a 56 hour week, well, get cracking.

If it means 15…then take the rest of the day off and stop worrying about it. You’ll be better for it tomorrow.