What might affect you as a research student

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Being a research student means having a degree of autonomy and independence to dive deep into your area of interest and inquiry. While this is exciting and rewarding, it also comes with some drawbacks and challenges. Some commonly identified issues could be related to the nature of your research project, such as working alone as opposed to working as part of a project group. Other issues might reflect the intense and messy process of research and publication; and still others stem from having to navigate the complex supervisory relationship.

Tips on dealing with thesis blues

A number of stressors have been identified by previous and current doctoral students. Some of those stressors are related to preparedness prior to undertaking research, others are related to the research environment and process, and still others are due to general life stress such as managing time, finance, and family and/or work responsibilities. Many doctoral students have also acknowledged experiencing imposter syndrome and anxiety about future career prospects. While experiencing some pressure is unavoidable, there are ways to minimise the impacts. Here are some helpful tips to help you manage your doctoral journey at UC:

  • Know your administrative and academic milestones.
  • Set up regular meetings with your supervisor at agreed intervals and times.
  • Have an agenda prepared for every meeting and follow up with a summary afterwards.
  • Establish mutual expectations with your supervisors, including whether you are expected to publish journal articles, and how many.
  • Accept that your family and friends may not understand your research, or why you even wanted to do research at the first place.
  • Develop a good routine and learn how to prioritise – this is the only way you are likely to achieve a level of work-life balance.
  • Feedback can be difficult to digest, especially when you are emotionally invested in the project. Remember, your supervisors are trying to protect and guide you; try not to take it personally.
  • Reach out to supervisors, colleagues, friends, and/or support services when you experience setbacks or issues.

Tips on dealing with imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome refers to an internal process where you discount your own (academic) achievements and feel worried constantly about not being as good as people perceive you to be. It is a common occurrence among academics and doctoral students and, while it is not a mental illness, it could have a negative impact on your wellbeing. Some common signs could include not giving yourself credit for your achievements, feeling anxious about not living up to other people’s expectations, feeling insecure about your own ability, and constant self-doubt.

Fortunately, there are some strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome:

  • Talk to a supportive mentor (i.e., your supervisor), colleague, or friend.
  • Acknowledge your achievements, strengths, and expertise. Write them down. You will be surprised by how far you have come.
  • Change the way you think: perfectly imperfect is perfect!
  • Accept that your doctoral thesis does not have to be your best work; it is the start of your research career, not the peak.
  • Connect with a professional that could help you develop skills to break/manage your imposter thinking.