I’m sitting in my boyfriend’s garden. The sun’s not quite shining but hey, it’s doing a lot better of a job than it has for the past 2 months (i.e. I can actually see blue sky in the distance, and if I look straight up it’s bright enough that I have to squint). And better than that, I can breathe freely. No more 18-month report looming over my shoulder, telling me off for every moment I take to myself.
If I could capture this moment. The scent of flowering daffodils, magnolias and hyacinths. A starling chattering in the neighbour’s tree. The church bell tolling. And now – a momentary splash of sunshine in the garden.
Spring, for all of its potential sunshine, budding flowers and singing birds, can be a fairly stressful time as a student. Oh yes, for a postgraduate student too. We may not have exams but not to fear, the world has invented all sorts of deadlines to make this a tense time for us as well!
When I’m stressed
“I hope you’ve had a good break” – is a phrase that’s been cropping up in recent emails to me. My body tenses. I frown. I’m confused. And then I remember – university term break, school Easter break, Easter weekend. Everyone’s taking time off!
If you’re a PhD student in spring, holidays are probably going to be short for you.
First year PhD students get it easy, right? It’s a breeze? Hmmm, no, nope, not really. Around spring time is when the 9 month report is due. You need to prove that you’re heading in the right direction, asking the right questions, and starting to think like a researcher.
Second year PhD students, can’t be too much to do then? You’re mid-way, you’re busy, just keep swimming – yes? NO. Spring time equals time for the dreaded mid-PhD report: prove to 2 internal examiners that your work is PhD-worthy, that you’ve made progress toward becoming a researcher, that you’ve got enough work left (but not too much) to produce a PhD… and so on. Shudder. Horror. Stress.
Ok, alright, but then third year PhD students must get left alone, because they’re just writing up at this point, putting the bow on their thesis, correct? Partially correct, partially incorrect. Some magical PhD unicorn researchers do exist, who are writing up, and only writing up, at this stage. But most third years will also be conferencing, finishing experiments/field work, applying for jobs, writing papers – the list goes on.
Believe me: spring = stress.
When it’s sunny
Occasionally, the sun does shine in Southampton. And when it does, we’re all like cows out of the barn for the first time in spring. Like me.
I submitted (finally) my 18-month, mid-PhD report last night at 9pm. And now I’m sitting outside, in the garden, staring lovingly at every spring leaf and flower I see.
I’m having my spring moment in the garden, but you’ll also see the population of Southampton congregate on the Common on the first sunny spring day. Regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, by 5pm it’ll be full of toddlers, footballs, dogs, cyclists, roller-blades, BBQ smells, Frisbees – you get the idea.
Yes, PhDs are stressful. Breath-suckingly, gut-wrenchingly stressful. But wow, these little moments do make it all worthwhile.
What are your favourite first signs of spring? At what temperature do you stash away the trousers and bright out the shorts?