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Happy PhD: Stop overthinking and start living

I arrived in Christchurch 18 months ago to start my doctoral studies. Here’s what I learned in my first year doing a PhD in New Zealand.

When I arrived in New Zealand, one of the first things I noticed about the culture was the concept of work-life balance. This was new for me, but during my time here I got to learn a lot more about it. I realised that this attitude helps students recognise that the grad school experience is about more than the rigour of academics; it is a balancing act of working hard as well as having fun. This inspired my personal project in social entrepreneurship: Happy PhD.

Happy PhD is the idea of being mindful of the personal reasons for pursuing doctoral studies. Here my top three tips for a Happy PhD experience:

1. Time management: because time is something you cannot buy.

Doing a PhD is more than study. It is about exploring yourself, your deep thoughts and ideas, and reaching the limit of your creativity to innovate in your field of study. However, it requires you to manage your own time by finding a balance between reading, writing, and, most importantly, thinking. The key is managing your time to complete your personal goals during the PhD and achieve the objectives of your research.

Here are a few time management tips:

1. Make realistic to-do list. Make sure you write down objectives for the week and activities for the day. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to achieve your tasks.

2. Know your hours of power. Some PhD students love mornings to write and study. Others love overnights. There is no rule or magic time. I recommend the book: The Power of When. You can find your own chronotype to know when to do everything in the time your body and brain are more productive. Trust me, I am a biologist.

2. Mentoring: for career and for life.

In general, building a network of people that will support you during your career is as important as finding support for your daily life. I recommend you find a life and professional mentor. They could be different from your research supervisor, and your research field, they could even be outside academia. It could be a person you admire professionally as well as personally. But most importantly, they will be a person who is willing to listen to you and ask the right and uncomfortable questions. Trust me, people are often willing to help.

I have a mentor who holds a PhD, is a scientific entrepreneur, speaks my mother language, and has been an important part of my PhD experience. One way to find a mentor is through a range of mentorship programs offered by your institution. For example, in my university I can access the UC mentoring programme. Taking time to prepare yourself for your future is better when you have a guide. Find a mentor, enjoy mentorship and then when you are ready, become a mentor for someone else.

3. Stop separating your life from your PhD, start living.

There is no such thing as life versus PhD - I think they’re the same. Everything that happens in your life affects your research. Your emotions, personal life, and downs and ups are reflected in your project, so it is important to maintain your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. When I read the book, PhD: An uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life, I realized that pursuing a PhD is all about loving what you study, and living it all the time.

My recommendation is to stop differentiating between your daily doubts about life and your PhD studies. Sometimes you will find surprising answers that will impact on both your research lifestyle and your personal inner growth. Stop doubting yourself and start living!

Bryann Avendaño

By Bryann Avendaño

Updated 1 year ago

Bryann is studying a PhD in Natural Resources Engineering at The University of Canterbury based in Christchurch, New Zealand. From Colombia, he is a scientist and expert in STEM education for Latin America. He is an alumnus from Teach for All and a fellow of the Global Competitiveness Leadership Program at Georgetown University, and a former scientific journalist and secondary school teacher for experiental education in STEM. Bryann describes himself as a “vertical and horizontal sportsperson”: a climber and surfer.

*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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