8 Qualities Which Will Get You Through Tough Times In Your PhD
1. Creative Thinking
When things go wrong during your PhD – which they surely will! - then you need to find creative solutions for problems. Maybe your first data analysis didn't find any meaningful results; or your pilot experiment didn't work out; or you couldn't locate a resource you needed. Now you need to find a new way to approach the problem, and be creative in your thinking to find a solution.
As a PhD student, you are an expert in some areas but inexperienced in others. In order to deal with challenges, you need to adapt and learn new skills as necessary. Don't tell yourself that you're “not good with numbers” or “not a good writer” - instead you'll benefit from accepting that you'll need to pick up lots of new things.
As with adaptability, it's important that you are open-minded to new ideas. Don't get too attached to one idea, method, or approach to your work. It's better to consider different approaches when you're in a bind – for example, perhaps your experimental methodology didn't work out, but there might be a different methodology you could use which would work.
4. Ability to accept criticism
It's hard to hear criticism – especially when you're tired, worried, or stressed. But when you run into a problem, you need to really listen to criticisms from your supervisor or colleagues. They have a wealth of information and ideas to offer you, as long as you aren't too defensive about the problems with your work to hear it. If you find this hard, try writing down the feedback and not responding to it straight away. Take 24 hours to think it over before responding, and you'll find it easier to accept valid criticisms.
5. Having (and using) a support network
You can't do a PhD alone, and you'll need a team who can help you out when things get tough. Fellow PhDs, other people in your department, people you meet at conferences and events, family, and friends can all be called on to help. Don't be afraid to ask for support when you need it – whether that support is advice, technical help, proofreading, or just going out with you socially to take your mind off things.
6. Perseverance & determination
You're sure to come across some road blocks in your PhD, like your paper getting rejected from a journal, an experiment which did not work out as planned, or the unavailability of resources which you were relying on for your project. In these times, you need to be able to keep working and not to give up. If you're really struggling with a problem, it's okay to take a few days off to think about it. But don't give up! Keep pushing back at your problems and you'll find a way to overcome them evnetually.
7. Stress management
Everyone doing a PhD feels overwhelmed with stress sometimes. It's normal to feel that way on occasion, but it'll be very hard if you feel stressed all of the time. In order to keep your stress levels under control, you should find a way to blow off steam which works for you. Some people like to exercise or play a team sport, others like meditation or relaxation techniques. Some people just like to read or to spend time with friends. Find something which works for you and carve out some time for stress management each week. This will make you much more capable of dealing with problems when they do arise.
All of these qualities go together to help you become resilient – that is, capable of coping with difficult situations and not giving up when faced with problems. Psychological resilience is a very important quality for a PhD student, as dealing with stress and adversity will be essential for success. Studies have found that positive emotions are key to coping with negative experiences, so one of the best ways that you can build your resilience is to occasionally take time off in which you indulge in fun activities. It might feel frivolous but it will help you in the long run!
For more tips and advice for PhD students, see these articles:
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You are educated, qualified and consider yourself reasonably intelligent. You have handed in countless papers, proposals, and at least one thesis. You probably have some experience under your belt, maybe already landed a pretty good job with good prospects. You are confident of your ability, ready to work evenings and weekends, and keen to impress. You may also have a steady partner, or are thinking about settling down in the next few years, which opens the possibility of starting a family, if you haven’t already. The game is about to change.
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