Another fortnight has passed, and its now only 6 weeks until the London Marathon. It’s also only four weeks until my mid-year review for my PhD. So a nice calm and gentle time all round!
At the end of each year of your PhD two academics who are not your supervisor look over your work from the last year, and check that you are on track to accomplishing a PhD in the required four years.
My review after my first year didn’t exactly go to plan.
Some concerns were raised over my rate of progress, and my supervisors suggested that I reconsider whether completing a PhD was necessarily the right course for me.
My first year was extremely tough, I found moving to a new city much harder than it had been moving as an undergraduate four years earlier. I struggled to meet people I had anything in common with and was plagued with difficulties in my work, I had no computer programming experience, and I was suddenly expected to write programs from scratch with little or no guidance. This was compounded by moving to the other side of the country from all my family, and feeling somewhat cut off from my support network.
During my fight to be allowed to stay and finish my studies, I was referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. This meant that rather than just being put on higher and higher dosages of the same antidepressant I’d been on for nearly three years, I was finally referred for individual and group therapy, as well as being put on a drug that is targeted at PTSD and the often resultant depression and anxiety. I also moved to being a part time student. I’m now on 80% time, which means I get one extra day a week to sleep, exercise and rest.
In the end I was allowed to stay for a six month probationary period to see if I could pick up the pace on my work. This period ends in four weeks’ time.
So, what’s changed in the last five months? Well, I am on a far lower dosage of antidepressant, and also on a drug that has a far lower sedating effect, along with therapy teaching me how to battle my nightmares I am sleeping regular hours and so my concentration levels have improved tenfold.
My Wednesdays off mean I can have a nice lie in, go to therapy for an hour and then spend the afternoon cycling around the countryside. When I return to work on Thursday I am much more calm and focussed.
I have the confidence to go to lunch with the other students in my department, as well being able to go to training with the Cross Country and Cycling teams. I have friends in Bristol at last, and I am genuinely happier than I have been in years.
But most importantly, my PhD work has really picked up pace, which has helped me mend my relationship with my supervisors. I may not exactly be a natural at computer programming, but I can now get by, and my analytic work is enjoyable again.
Though I am nervous about my mid-year review, I guess I am secretly optimistic as well.
I know I’m lucky that I can have a day off each week; not many people have that luxury. But I hugely recommend everyone find a GP they can form a proper relationship with and ensure they are actually getting treated, rather than just being so heavily sedated that you don’t commit suicide, but also can’t feel.
Now I’m starting to get better I can have wonderful days like yesterday, when I went with about 20 Bristol University students over to Bath to run in the city’s half marathon. Ok, so admittedly I got nervous of the crowds and threw up before the race, but I had friends take the train with, warm up with and celebrate with afterwards.
There’s something fantastic about trying to run across a field to hug a friend, but both of you having to limp and hobble a bit, but making it and being proud and excited about what you’ve achieved. And most importantly, having a big cup of tea and a tasty iced bun together afterwards.
It was personal best’s all round for the Bristol team, I ran 1:48:34, taking over a minute off my time from last year, and giving me a much needed confidence boost ready for London.
Bring on the next six weeks!
An interesting recent article about mental health amongst PhD students: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/mar/01/mental-health-issue-phd-research-university