This year, it has taken me a while to write this post. My third year has been one of the most difficult ones yet, however the way my fourth year is shaping up might beat it. My third year was the first year without course work. I moved back full time from Ottawa to Toronto. I struggled to complete my qualifying exam – put did pass. And I taught for my first time. All while planning a wedding, that was “postponed” due to the pandemic.
But here I am, in my fourth year, reflecting on my third.
So, here are my 10 personal reflections from my 3rd year as a PhD student:
1: Flexibility is equally as important to planning
My third year was also the same year of the start of the pandemic in March 2020. However, it started months before then (September 2019). This context is important because, while I love a good plan, one of the things the pandemic has taught us is that we can’t plan anything. Most of my plans for my third year went to sh*t – my qualifying exam, my wedding and my first time teaching. This is not to say I didn’t complete these thing – I successfully passed my exam, we had a beautiful intimate wedding and I shifted my course online quickly. But none of these things happened in the way I had planned or expected. So, sure it helps to have a plan but remember that being flexible with those plans is equally as important. My biggest ah-ha moment yet has been adapting my thesis to examine workers experience in COVID-19. If I didn’t leave room for flexibility in my work, this opportunity would have passed me by.
2: Life happens during your PhD
I’ve already written a whole blog post on this one, which you can read here, but it goes hand and hand with lesson #1. Life happens during a PhD, this includes loss, life, happiness and challenging times. Unfortunately my third year was full of loss. Because a PhD is so long, it’s important to remember that life happens, which will pull you away from your work and that is okay. It is more important to prioritize your life than finishing your PhD sooner.
3: Your health matters more than your PhD
During my third year, it became abundantly clear that I was putting my mental health on the back burner. I look at the picture I featured in this post, which was taken at the beginning of my third year and I hardly recognize myself. I open up about my mental health journey here, how I am struggling and how I am also trying to manage. My main takeaway from this year, which I am trying to practice, is to constantly put myself before my work. This take practice, every hour of every day. .
4: Create boundaries – continue to learn how to say no
I learned this lesson in my second year and I’m still working on this one. Creating boundaries is also difficult when power dynamics are involved. No real tips here just yet, but create boundaries when you can, as best as you can. Listen to your gut – you know when you should say no. The next step is courage in order to say it.
5: Trust yourself
Third year has also been a time where I have learned to trust myself more. Perhaps it is because in the past, I didn’t listen to my gut, I listened to others and everything went wrong. So I am learning to listen to myself more, and trusting my own inner voice. As well as trusting my scholarly voice. My qualifying exam confirmed my contribution to social sciences and provided me a bit more confidence in my own voice as a scholar
6: Take the lead
This confidence and trust in myself, has allowed me a bit more confidence to take the lead. Whether that be in meetings, on projects, or in my own endeavours. However, I am realizing it is a fine balance, because as a PhD candidate, I find scholars who are ‘above me’ want to see me taking the lead, but they also don’t want to let go of power. And are not willing to let go of that power especially with a PhD student. So, I still have a ways to go in terms of increase this confidence and taking the lead more, but it’s becoming more natural – and thats progress.
7: Put in effort to maintain your community
It is so easy to get caught up in our own bubble, behind your computer and lose touch with colleagues. I have been lucky enough to build on my community of colleagues who continue to bring me joy and relief. Continue to make the time to build these relationships – whether it is to complain to one another, to write with one another, or to support one another. We can’t go through this journey alone.
8: Revision is necessary
This was one of my biggest lessons of my third year. Entering into my writing from coursework, I did not realize how many revisions would be needed in a written piece. Typically in my course work, I wrote my paper, got some feedback on it but ended up with an A. When I went to write my qualifying exam, I didn’t realize that I would end up writing multiple versions of it. I wrote so many I lost track. Ultimately this made the paper much stronger, and improved my writing for the long run. But it was a complete shock to me. Now I know if I am going to write something, I am prepared to write many more versions of it, before it is ‘complete’.
9: Your environment matters
I used to rent a 500square foot place with my partner. Back in March we were asked to leave, as their daughter was moving in. This all happened during the pandemic. All in all this was a blessing in disguise because our last place was only a 1 bedroom, with a small area for a desk – no window, or door. If my partner and I were still both living and working in the space, I don’t think either of us would be in a good place right now. We moved into a place almost double the size. I now have my own den with a door and lots of natural light. Of course this comes at a cost, but this has done wonders for my mental health.
10. Check in with yourself, constantly
I make time to check in with myself. Everyday, every week and every month. Daily, I spend time with my thoughts as I walk. I also spend time breathing with no other distractions. Every week I reflect on what went well and how I can improve. And monthly I check-in with my long term goals. Checking in with myself has allowed me to ask tough questions, cut out the things in my life that aren’t serving me and find more joy my work and in my life.
Share your reflections from your 3rd year below.
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.
P.P.S Applying to grad school for the 2021/22 school year? Check out this FREE eBook on 5 steps to a successful grad school application. Are you in grad school and struggling to find easy lunches to bring to campus? Check out three FREE recipes and full nutritional information here.