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Taking time out during your doctorate

Written by Dr Katryna Kalawsky

I’ve never been that savvy when it comes to fixing appliances. Usually, if something I own isn’t working properly, i’ll often resort to turning it off and on again and most of the time it does the trick. It’s the same with my brain. If i’m finding that i’m not being productive or having a hard time focusing, it’s probably because I need to switch off my mind and recharge. But, sometimes doing that is far easier said than done and I know i’m not alone in this. Some of you reading this blog post may be longing for a break but thoughts about work (amongst other things) are never far away and preventing you from taking time out. Alternatively some of you may decide to take a break from your work but when you’re suppose to be relaxing, you can’t because you start feeling guilty about all the time you could be spending towards your research (I get it, i’ve been there!). Reasons for these thoughts can vary from person to person and of course there’s the added complication for many of having other responsibilities/challenges alongside their doctorate to manage. But if you don’t pause, even just for a little bit, you run the risk of burning out which not only hinders your productivity but your overall wellbeing too.

Everyone’s idea of leisure time will be different. For me during my doctorate, I would really enjoy going to the cinema as films transported my busy mind somewhere else. These days I’m particularly drawn to international films (the subtitles force me to put down my laptop and phone so that I don’t miss anything important – please get in touch if anyone has any film recommendations!), podcasts and audio books (closing my eyes and listening to something before I go to sleep is really relaxing (again I have to ‘switch off’ my mind to pay attention to what’s being said!).

During the Doctoral College’s Wellbeing Week Twitter Chat, I asked those that took part what they did to take time out during their doctorates. Here are the responses:

“Who remembers Blast Billiards?! This definitely got me they definitely got me through my PhD.”– Dr John Harrison

“I like travel/an adventure very much, and did then.” – Professor Elizabeth Peel

“Running, cycling and music (not always at the same time)” – Dr Manuel Alonso

“Having regular breaks. Pretty much every day many of us would meet for a coffee at about 10.30am, then for lunch at about 1pm, no matter what. If someone wasn’t there, others would go and get them.” – Dr Ksenia Chmutina

“Baking!! I once created both Photosystem II and the absorption spectrum of chlorophyll through the medium of cake! (My actual thesis rather pales into comparison.” – Dr Sophie Crouchman

“I joined @LandscapingLSU. We are so lucky @lborouniversity to have this incredible society that brings students, staff & local community together, having fun growing local food & learning about nature!” – Dr Ksenija Kuzmina

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So next time you feel like your running out of steam, it’s probably because you are! Listen to your body and mind and take a pit stop (and don’t feel guilty for doing so!); you’ll feel much better for it and your work will improve too!

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Please feel free to share your thoughts and advice to our doctoral researchers on this topic via the blog comments box or via TwitterAfter all, one of the many aspects of ‘kindness’ (the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020) is about taking time out for others.

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