September 19th marked the beginning of the new academic year here in Exeter, which really only meant one thing: I have officially started the 3rd year of my PhD.
The thing I have found, is that the mystical “third year” (and all that comes with it) seemed like such a far-away milestone that it kind of snuck up and pounced on me when I least expected it. Which kind of meant I began the year like this:
Everything is immediately more intense: the “what are you doing when you’re finished” questions have already started; the people I started with have all started arriving earlier and staying later in the office; and my first supervision of the year involved giving a verbal account of where I was “going to be” in a month, a term, by Easter, by Summer…
To be honest, it’s all a bit overwhelming. The ability to finish on time is one of those things that I, with my stubborn “I can definitely do this PhD full-time” attitude, am determined to prove to myself, and everyone else too (and let’s not forget that extra time = extra fees), but there are an awful lot of things that can get in the way.
Nevertheless, I have tried my very best to make this very scary rentrée as stress-free as possible, in various ways. So, without further ado, here is a run-down of my last few weeks:
- The desk move
I started this year with a change of location as they are refurbishing the area where our old offices were to make the very exciting and shiny Digital Humanities Lab. This means that the contemplations in this blog no longer come from a basement! (The title, however, will remain unchanged). While it seemed, at the time, like a bit of a stress, having to pack up my belongings and then set everything up in a new place, it really has given the sense of a nice, new, fresh start to the year. Plus, the new office is beautiful:
Having a space to set up really helped me get into the swing of things this year: I was having a bit of a post-summer slump and being able to buy new things (hello, ergonomic mouse and keyboard!) and set up my new digs was a great motivator.
2. The Big Plan
While I was having my aforementioned post-summer slump, it occurred to me that maybe I needed a plan. I’ll let you in on a secret: I am a BIG planner. I like to be prepared and planned for everything, and I like to have GOALS. That’s why the PhD has been such a challenge. “What are you doing today?” “Oh, you know…writing some stuff.” I like word counts and charts and PLANS. And so, I did that thing I said I would never do, and I made a Gantt chart:
I know, I know. It tracks my targets and tasks I know about up until next September (my full-draft goal). I know. But you know what? Ever since I made this monster, I have not had one day off-track. By setting clear, achievable (that’s the important thing) targets, I have created a system that makes me feel much more relaxed. If I have a super productive morning where I meet my target, I then have the afternoon to get ahead (or do something fun *gasp*), or if I feel a bit tired or unproductive in the morning, I know I need to kick myself into gear in the afternoon. It might seem a little over-board but so far, it’s working for me. Plus, as I did this before my first supervision, it meant that when the “where do you want to be in a month/term/two terms” question came, I actually had an answer, and will hopefully be able to actually stick to the plans…!
3. The New Timetable
For the last year and a half, I have been liftsharing with some wonderful people who drove me to Exeter every morning and drove me home at the end of the day. They were amazingly flexible, and it really helped keep the absolutely unbelievable prices of train commuting down. However, the problem with sharing with normal, real people who have normal, real jobs, is that if you arrive at 8am, they would like to leave at 4. This is perfectly understandable when you have a job that pays you for a certain amount of time. But the problem for me was, well, that there simply were not enough hours in the day. Maybe this makes me inefficient. Regardless, I needed more time on campus. So now, I have gone back to getting the train every day. I book in advance to reduce the train fare (and to force me to actually keep to a timetable), and work from home every Wednesday to keep the cost as low as possible (and to allow me half an hour extra sleep each week). It means I have to be super organised with my plans, because my tickets are purchased 12 weeks in advance, but also means that I have very little inclination to leave early, given that they are already paid for.
All of this, while a little scary (OK, a lot scary), has made the transition into intense-writing-must-submit-on-time mode a lot easier. Coupled with the excellent company of my office mates who continue to provide laughs, encouragement, and refreshments, I feel good about this year. But maybe don’t ask me how it’s going too often.
If you have any tips for staying sane during the last year, or any stage of your PhD, let me know in the comments!