Grappling with Fear

Mélina with her soft-bound thesis outside the Aston Webb Buiding
Mélina after submitting her thesis (Dec 19)

In this post, Mélina Delmas (who previously welcomed you to UoB) looks at four common fears most research students face and some tips on how to cope with them.  Congratulations to Mélina on submitting her thesis in December 2019!

“I’m not working enough”

Throughout the course of my PhD, I often found myself grappling with the number of hours I worked. Being an Arts student, I didn’t have to conduct experiments or to come to the lab. Thus, some days, I found myself working five hours maximum, which made me feel like I should be doing more.

Strategy: do not compare your work to a nine-to-five job. Comparison will kill you (or at least your spirit!). Research is different. Reconsider what working means for you. For me working meant doing research or writing. But the truth is, even on my daily walk to university, ideas were brewing at the back of my mind. Also, don’t forget that replying to emails, planning for your thesis, etc. is also work.

You can also try one of the Shut up & Work sessions organised by the Graduate School, which will leave you feel ten times more productive.

Fear of writing

We’ve all been there. The anxiety of the blank page. Not knowing where to start, or being paralysed by the fear of failure.

Strategy: what has worked for me is just to force myself to start writing (sometimes using the Pomodoro technique to boost myself). Even if it’s just some parts of a wonky sentence, knowing that no one will see it and that I will edit it later. Would I like to be able to produce perfect sentences on my first go? Of course! But this is not usually what happens. Remember, a few words or paragraphs – even bad ones – are better than nothing!

“My work is not good enough”

Strategy: look at the results and listen to your supervisors. Although I always feel like I am not working enough and that my work is not good enough, I’ve always received good feedback from my supervisors. Trust me, they know best. So, if they think you’re doing okay, do believe them.

A note here: I’m suggesting this on the basis that your supervisors have realistic expectations.

Impostor syndrome

I always look at other people and think that they are more intelligent or more productive than me. They seem to work many more hours and do so many things!

Strategy: talk to other students. When you talk to people, you start to realise they are usually facing the same concerns, and maybe view you as being more productive or intelligent than them.

Again, a note about this: there will always be people trying to make you feel inadequate (usually because they feel insecure themselves), so try your best to avoid them and instead surround yourself with supportive people.

If you want to share your experience in a supportive environment, the Graduate School holds a monthly PhD Chat session looking at a different topic each month.

Do you have those fears too? What are your own tips or strategies to face them?

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