Real Life Continues Despite Your PGR
One of the ways in which people assume they can get through their PhD, is to lock down their entire lives outside university, so they can focus on their research. They want everything else in their life to remain stable and the same, so they can focus on their work.
This is, of course, entirely understandable and even logical. Your PGR studies are a temporary project that is going to demand a lot of work and attention for a specific period of time. If everything else can be put on hold, that will create more time and space for you to focus on what you need to do. It just doesn’t really work.
The fact is that while you are studying, everyone else in your life will be getting on with living theirs. This means that change is inevitable. Real life will continue and will demand your attention, even though you need to work on your research.
Setting yourself up with the expectation that everything else can be put on hold will just leave you frustrated. Trying to hold everything else in the same place will just use up energy and focus unnecessarily.
Instead, it can help to plan for unexpected interruptions and to accept them when they arise. Every other PGR student will have the same experience – research degrees generally take too long to avoid the ups and downs of normal life. Despite this, students graduate with Masters and Doctorates every year – even though they’ll have had other things in their life pulling their attention away.
When planning out your research, allow occasional buffer periods, so that if you do fall behind because of events in your life, you will have built in time to help you catch back up.
When something does happen, scale and scope how significant it really is and recognise that sometimes, taking time off from your research to deal with whatever it is can be more effective than trying to cope with both at once.
Use the techniques we discuss in the rest of this section to help you find ways through. You will also benefit from proactively using the support around you to help manage things and maintain your wellbeing and research.
If you can accept that other things will happen, are willing to work with them, give them the attention they need, compensate for the impact on your work and use support then other things in your life will be less likely to derail your studies. Plan for the unexpected and recognise that you cannot control life, however inconvenient that may be.
If you have other responsibilities this may be true throughout your whole degree. For instance, if you are a parent, your children will inevitably have periods of illness etc. that disrupt your routine. But this is ok – parents graduate with PhDs all the time. It just means you will need to flow with what is happening and work around your circumstances. Sometimes this may mean working in less than ideal ways but it doesn’t mean your work will be any less valuable.
Even for senior researchers, life still happens. Go with it and you will have more energy left to focus on yourself and your work.