After finishing the first year of my PhD program, I spent some time reflecting and wrote a blog post on personal reflections from that year, you can read that post here. This process helped me reflect and naturally I wanted to do it again for my second year.
Similarly to my first year, after course work was finished, I was exhausted and depleted. Although I finished a big milestone of finishing all my coursework, it suddenly dawned on me that I still have four more years to go. I just finished two of the most challenging years of my life but yet I felt like I was just starting again, moving into this new phase of my own research and teaching. Not only was this very daunting but also brought on even more anxiety than usual.
On top of this, I also had many other life events that arose. So recently, I took some days off and now I am feeling more like myself. If I am being honest though, I could still use some more time. But I also am realizing that I need to start making that time and building it into my schedule.
All this to say, a PhD is challenging and here are my 10 personal reflections from my 2nd year as a PhD student:
1: Things will get more complicated
In my first year I was simply trying to survive. Similar to other folks, I wanted to figure out what this PhD thing was all about and get a jump start. I wasn’t going to be that person who falls behind. I quickly realized a PhD is not a race. There is no rule book, everyone’s journey looks different and as much as you want to plan or predict what your path will look like, well it doesn’t work like that. Things will get more complicated, so start to get comfortable with things going off course.
2: Put your committee together early
One of the successes of my second year was putting together my committee for my comprehensive exams. I was able to get this done pretty fast, I put a lot of thought into who I wanted to be on it and by December I had built a committee of strong women, who all have different perspectives and experiences to share. So, two lessons here; take time to really think about who you want on your committee and try and get this organized early. The earlier you do, the more advice and guidance you are able to get from multiple people.
3: Keep a list of readings and books that speak to you
Likewise, starting to think about my proposal as well as my exams earlier on meant that I was able to put aside readings or books that spoke to me. Keep a list, it doesn’t matter where; Zotero, pen and paper, in Word. Whatever works. You don’t want to forget about these gems that will spark inspiration for your future work.
4: Learn to say no
Unfortunately, I am still working on this one. The difficulty about being in a precarious work environment is that it is difficult to say no to opportunity when it arises because you don’t know when the next opportunity will come around. However, for me this meant sacrificing my mental health and my free time. If I could go back, I would try and get better at saying no. If anyone has any tips for me – please comment below!
5: Anxiety and depression are unfortunately common
In December-March of my second year, my anxiety was at its all time high, leading to symptoms of depression. I reached out for help through a therapist, a doctor, a naturopath and ultimately tried some medication but decided it wasn’t for me. I am hoping to write a more detailed post on this journey for me in the future. There should be more support for PhD students but unfortunately there isn’t. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, reach out and know you are not alone.
6: Taking it easy on yourself is more than okay, it is necessary
Especially if you are feeling anxious or depressed, but even if you aren’t, make sure to take it easy on yourself. In March I decided to take a stand for my mental health, I went to yoga despite the fact I had to dip into my student line of credit, bought myself healthy food, took naps and prioritized ME. It is one of the best gifts I have ever given myself. Don’t feel guilty. It is necessary.
7: Build and lean on community and colleagues
I was lucky enough to build on my community of colleagues from my first year with those who entered in this past year. These colleagues have truly been life savers and are the ones who have helped me the most, since they are the only ones who really know what eachother are going through. Make time to grow these relationships and connect.
8: Build community outside your department or school
Similarly, you can find this community outside of your department through conferences. If you don’t have the money to travel, take opportunities at your own school and connect with others in different fields and departments. Not only did it give me perspective, but it helped grow my community of scholar friends.
9: Get to know your scholarly self by looking inwards
One of my favourite aspects of my second year was starting to find my own voice as a scholar. Taking the time with my supervisor to learn about what writing, theory and methods speak to me as a scholar was exciting. I hope that everyone gets some time to deeply reflect on who they want to be as a scholar, what they want to contribute and how they are going to do so.
10. Be creative
In my first year I started to see the importance of being creative, but it wasn’t until my second year where I felt truly comfortable with taking creative leaps. Creativity has a big part to play in academia; in research, writing and in teaching. Don’t be afraid to let our creativity soar.
Now, I’m curious to hear what your reflections were from your 2nd year?
Were there any similar to mine?
Comment below! I would love to hear them.
Until next time,
P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.
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