Dealing with unexpected interruptions to your PhD

10 Jun

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” (Robert Burns)

 This quote, for me (and I suspect for many) fits beautifully with doing a PhD. Basically it means that no matter how well or how carefully you plan something, things may and often do deviate from this plan. Some of my previous blog posts will substantiate this.

In my blog post on 8th April I spoke about preparing for my study leave and the strategies I planned to adopt to help my productivity, in particular increasing my physical exercise routine. For a little while, this worked well.

However, shortly after my last blog post on the 2nd May (saying how well my plan was going), I was asked to go to Kuwait with a colleague to do infection prevention and control teaching. Time was tight as we had less than 3 weeks to develop, plan and produce a 5 day face-to-face programme for practitioners working in infection prevention and control. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it was an amazing opportunity for everyone involved. On the other however, I was so focused on writing my thesis and following my carefully laid out plans that I didn’t want anything to change this. Nevertheless, when working in academia, being flexible and responding to unexpected developments and situations is par for the course, so my study leave and thesis writing was put on hold so that I could focus on the Kuwait project.

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Despite the stress and tension of doing this in such a short space of time, the Kuwait experience was incredible and the programme was a success. Kuwait is a lovely place to visit (although there wasn’t much time for sight-seeing) and the people we met and got to know were friendly, hospitable and really inspirational – they were very much committed to infection prevention and control, patient safety and improvement.

So fast forward post-Kuwait. Yesterday was my first day back to my PhD and it feels like ages ago I last worked on it. When I put it on the back burner to work on the Kuwait project, I was half way through revisiting my findings chapter. Trying to get my thinking back to 4 weeks ago really is quite unsettling and I have to admit that I am feeling anxious.   As a result, a number of doubts and worries (old and new) about my PhD and my thesis have reared their ugly heads (questioning its value and its worthiness, questioning my depth of analysis, if I’ve answered my RQs, if my writing is of PhD standard – pretty much questioning everything).  I went to a Yoga practice class yesterday, and I’ve been out for my morning run today which has helped a little, but the anxieties remain.

I think I am just disappointed with myself because I thought I would come back to it full of great ideas and be able to easily pick up where I left off, but I haven’t.   I also thought that at this stage, I should really be done with the negative thoughts and self-doubts.  I guess I need to take my time to allow things to come back to me slowly rather than forcing it to happen too quickly. Perhaps in time, I might still find that this break will turn out to be positive and productivity can be restored soon.

I would love to hear about anyone’s experiences with having unplanned interruptions in their PhD, especially during the near end stages.  Were they good or not-so-good experiences? How did you cope with it?

Thanks for dropping by.  This blog post by the way, is me procrastinating, but as it’s now written and posted, I guess it’s time to open that findings chapter and see if I can do better than yesterday.

 

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2 Responses to “Dealing with unexpected interruptions to your PhD”

  1. Ra May 17, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    I took a year off from October 2014 ( right after passing my qualifying exam) and working full time. I am totally detached from the research for 7 months. I was trying hard for last one month to do some work during weekend. .. I dont know why Its taking me forever to do a simple thing.

    • Emma Burnett May 18, 2015 at 7:51 am #

      Hi there. I totally understand how difficult it is. Perhaps trying making a list of small manageable tasks you need to do and take it from there. What also helped me was taking my time rather than thinking ‘I need to get through this quickly to try to catch up’. I took plenty breaks and made sure I didn’t sit in front of my PC for hours. I found then I got back into the swing of things after a little while. Good luck

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