Thursday, May 27, 2010

Surviving the Second Year Blues

Have you ever had one of those dreams in which you are trying get somewhere and you can’t? I am having these dreams with increasing frequency; I think it’s my subconscious mind’s not-so-subtle hint that I’m hitting a lull in my PhD progress. Something I rather naively hadn’t realized until now is that the demands of a PhD increase as you go along. Studies start piling up; rejected manuscripts need to be rewritten and sent to another journal; resubmitted manuscripts need to be thoroughly vetted to maximize their chances of getting accepted. This may not be the case for everyone, but I have certainly found myself to be under more pressure in my second year than in my first. I’m sure also that the pressure will only increase in my final year.

Pressure can be motivating or it can cause people to freeze. I believe that the trick to dealing with the pressure of the later stages of a PhD is to do with passive and active responding. Passive responding to pressure involves withdrawing and freezing which, although dysfunctional, at least has the benefit of keeping you out of contact with the thing that is causing you anxiety. Unfortunately I think that a lot of people use this strategy (you know the ones – they’ve been here forever and their catch-cry is “I just need to run one more study before I write up…”). Active responding is harder than passive responding. It involves forward planning and strict adherence to the deadlines that you (and other people) set for yourself.

My advice to anyone who, like me, is experiencing the second year (or third year, or fourth year) blues is just to get on with it. Confront the issue head on and try to make headway on small tasks by writing up a results section here, a general introduction there. Have a serious chat with your supervisor about the direction you’re heading in and the timeline you need to meet in order to finish. And above all, don’t let it get you down. Most people feel like this at one time or another in their postgraduate degree so don’t sweat it.

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