Resubmitting a Report and Ongoing Personal Development

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Hi All 🙂

Just a short post today. Not an enormous has happened in terms of progress (getting experiments set up can take a long time) but a few significant things have occurred.

First Year Report…again

Two months ago I posted about how the combination of my first year report and viva were unsatisfactory. I was given 2 months to resubmit and be re-examined. That came on the 9th of April and I’ve been waiting for a decision. A couple of weeks ago I learned that as this was a re-submission a viva wasn’t required unless the examiners thought it necessary. After discussing my report I passed without viva! Whoop! A massive weight off my shoulders. I’ve received good feedback on the report and experiments in general which is useful but in general I am so happy to not have to be examined again (at least until my final viva!!!).

Personal Development

Personal development is a buzzphrase businesses and similar throw around and generally involves improving the skills of their employees. Over the last year or so I’ve come to feel that personal development is a lot more…personal than that. It’s more about how you develop as a person whether that be emotionally, socially, professionally or similar. Now on these lines the last few months have been hard. At times very hard. PhD involves a steep learning curve which challenges both you and your perception of your self, ambitions, and abilities. The biggest hit for me was the realisation that I’m not as competent as I thought. By all means I never thought I was brilliant nor do I think I’m now incompetent but when the way you work has done you well for long enough and then you suddenly feel like you’re drudging through treacle then you tend to get struck by that realisation. So not only is my PhD pushing my technical and intellectual abilities it’s also challenging my ideas of who I am and what I am capable of. Being self-funded is bringing its own challenges as well. Working 3-4 evenings a week on top of full days in the lab means I’m challenging by body and it’s limits. In particularly I’m having to very quickly learn to work efficiently and adjust my life to when I work optimally (see my post ‘Cheer Up Sleepy Genes‘). Overall PhD is bringing challenges on just about every level and I’m currently straddling the line between ‘enthusiastic and just a little overwhelmed’ and ‘exhausted and running out of determination’. I’m certain it’s the former. Driving against a tide (caused largely by yourself) is exhausting but my interest and passion for learning are still there I just let things get on top of me. I’ve got another few years of this so to make the most of it and do best for my health I need to get on top of my plans. I will.

The next two month are going to involve starting the heaviest period of this experiment and I’m also going on a much needed holiday. I’ll also be thinking of something to post on the sciencey end of things so any suggestions are welcome.

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

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Report Writing, Motivation & Organisation Problems

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Hey all 🙂 and happy New Year!

This has been a good albeit slow year for me. I’ve had a disappointing pilot experiment and funding issues. On the plus side I’ve gained some great teaching experience, am getting ever more enthusiastic about my topic, and have been to a couple of conferences which have been really useful. The last two months have really highlighted to me that my main  weakness is motivation (and to some extent organisation) and for that reason I’d like to tell you about these and how they’ve impacted my first year report writing.

Report Writing

 I have been posting bits and bobs about writing my first year report for quite a few months now. Just as a reminder: every PhD student has to pass their first year with a report covering their topic, any work they’ve done so far, and any plans for the rest of their studies. I had mine planned in the summer with the aim of drafting it to send to my supervisor by the first of September. Well…that was the aim. For one reason or another including working more hours in the evening but mostly because of my own lack of motivation it didn’t get done. I subsequently extended my personal deadline, failed to hit it, extended again,…you can see where this is going. Ultimately I didn’t end up polishing this off and sending it to the supervisor until the 30th of December. Thankfully this does provide enough time for her to provide feedback and me to improve the draft but it would have been much better to have this out of the way earlier. Towards the end my hesitation became less about motivation and more a…fear or anxiety (for want of a better word) about having it finished and send for judgement. I actually finished the words and everything needed far earlier but I just sat on it which is not the way forward. This is also very unlike me to be hesitant or worrying about things. Overall I haven’t been happy with myself when writing my report but I feel that the writing itself is now good and it certainly has given me an awakening I needed to get better planned for the coming year.

Motivation & Organisation Problems

 Now on to the crux of the matter: motivation. Since about the middle of the summer my motivation has been low. It’s not been a case of a lack of love for my topic now what I’m doing in general. Just a lack of drive to do it in the first place. I have been quite disappointed in my own lack of productivity as I don’t want to be wasting time. By all means I know that we all need down time and this is a separate lesson PhD students need to learn but achieving nothing for prolonged periods is not really an acceptable way to spend one’s time. One of the main things with these sorts of problems is obviously realising they exist but also trying to figure out why they are. For me I think my problems are caused by a lack of structure. I don’t give myself a daily routine nor targets to achieve so tasks just blend together until they build up and become intimidating. The main way I am going to deal with this in the new year is to give myself immediate, short-, and long-term targets and then make my day more structured with work and relaxing periods. This will let me be more productive and see that I have been so. Win win!

This is a big and important issue which can come up in your studies but I don’t actually have an enormous amount to say on it. Ultimately if you are feeling a lack of motivation in what you are doing then first try to work out why. Have you lost interest in your topic? Or in pursuing research in general? Are you like me in that you just need some structure in your studies? If so perhaps introduce your own targets or failing that ask your supervisor to give you some! Could there be an underlying problem medically that you’re uncovering? If all else fails then perhaps talking to a few people about it could help. Even to start with other students who can reassure you that your experiences aren’t unique. Overall, this time of your life is important and time is generally precious so we want to make the best of our time even if that means realising that the track we’re on is not for us.

I also wish to start making these posts more regular as I believe it will be more enjoyable for you to have something to read more often than every two months! As not a huge amount changes in the case of research every two months I am going to continue my UG2Phd posts as they have been (i.e. January, March, May,…) and on opposite months add posts about science and nature. I will write about my topic, things I find interesting, recent findings and how they’ve been portrayed in the media. I am also considering adding a ‘popular myths’ section where I post on an as-and-when basis. How do these ideas sound? Any suggestions are welcome.

My next two months will be spent polishing off my report and having my viva, setting up my first big experiment, and kicking myself into gear with my new plan.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 BCT