Archive | January, 2012

Take a break from PhD? You’ve got to be kidding!

12 Jan

Taking a break from our PhD is something we don’t do often enough. Not because we can’t, but because we feel we shouldn’t. This is something I am very bad at doing and when I do, I feel guilty and then I don’t actually enjoy  the break because I am too busy thinking about my PhD. Taking a break could just mean going out for a coffee for a couple of hours,  an evening or day off or even a holiday. Anyone that has embarked on a PhD knows only too well that life can get  tough, very tough – trying to juggle work, study and home life can, at times, get overwhelming. We are very hard on ourselves and feel that we should be able to handle it all of the time. As Elisha Goldstein told us “sometimes the overwhelm is too great and in my mind, the underpinnings of mindfulness is to figure out what the most skilful action is to take. Perhaps “being with” the overwhelm isn’t what is best in that moment for your stress reduction and well-being and instead we need to “take a break” from it in order to help stop the spiral” (

Taking a complete break while on holiday has always been a no no for me and in the past I have always taken some papers, a research book or draft of work to keep me ticking over until I get back (my family are past trying to persuade me otherwise). This I thought, was productive and would keep me focussed while away from my desk. However, I would often return with the same difficulties and challenges that I faced previously and still not being able to see the wood for the trees.

Over New Year this year, however, I went snowboarding to the French Alps with the family – armed with my iPad so I would still be able to do something while I was away. However, to my disgust when I arrived, the wifi wasn’t working in the hotel which meant I had no internet connection. Additionally, the documents I quickly popped into my dropbox as I left the house were not there. I am not ashamed to admit, but this caused me a great deal of anxiety for the first few days and I even tried to find nearby areas with wifi where we could go. However, as the fun and laughter progressed during our snowboarding days, I started to relax and enjoy the precious time I was spending with my family (something a PhD doesn’t often let us do). It made me think: Here I was, doing something I love with my family in one of them most beautiful places with more snow than I could ever imagine: my PhD was going to be there waiting for me when I got back and 7 days off was really not going to have any negative effect on my work. In fact, it did quite the opposite. Before my holiday, I had just gone through my Transfer of Ordinance and had spent every spare moment on writing. Much of November and December, I often felt like I was treading through treacle – hours and hours of work and making little progress (a feeling that I am sure everyone is familiar with!). Yet, when I returned to my PhD post-holiday and picked up the paper I had been writing before I left, lots of new and fresh ideas came quickly (well maybe not the first day!). I was able to see my writing with a critical eye and to my amazement, actually enjoyed going back to it and am looking forward to progressing.

I conclude with a quote from Donald Latumahina: “break taking is not only good for our souls. Strangely enough, it’s also good for productivity and work. If my mind is well rested, I can do four hours’ worth of work in an hour. If my mind is tired, even the most trivial tasks take significant time and effort” (

This is something that I will definitely do as part of my PhD journey from now on, and not feel guilty about it: I couldn’t do this without the support of my family – they deserve some of my undivided attention from time to time too!


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