Making time count when doing your PhD

Lisa MurphyI am a first year PhD candidate in Applied Psychology at University College Cork. I did my undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology here and I honestly love the School! Its home to a lot of memories, but more importantly it has what I need in terms of progressing as an academic and as a professional. So, I’ve decided to embark upon a 4 year structured PhD programme – exciting (and terrifying) times ahead! In these early days, I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m actuallydoing a PhD – not so long ago, this was something that only grown up’s did!  You can tweet Lisa or visit her website, where this blog was originally published

 

Time is perhaps the most important thing in our physical and psychological world. We can neither save it nor store it, exchange it nor rewind it. We are constantly spending, and often wasting, our most precious resource. Since beginning my PhD, I have come to understand the importance of time (both my own as well as the time of others) more earnestly than ever before. Our time must be planned, utilised effectively, enjoyed, never squandered and always considered.

Yet I sometimes wonder – even if I succeeded in planning each and every minute of the next four years to a degree of astounding precision, and completed each minute exactly as scheduled, would this time be enough to accomplish all of the things that I want to accomplish, mainly, four perfectly designed and impeccably executed pieces of research? Probably/definitely not! Somewhere, somehow, a trade-off must occur between completing your doctoral research in a reasonable amount of time and conducting ‘perfect research’ of faultless quality. Although the latter, in my opinion, can never be accomplished, it is certainly achievable to waste mental energy and more importantly, precious time, trying to conduct perfect PhD research.  For example, at the moment I spend a considerable amount of time every day sitting at my computer, books and journal articles covering the surface of my desk, a new Microsoft Word document open on the screen, faced with a blinking curser, and no words. Here is why (a.k.a what not to let happen):

I have become so preoccupied with writing ‘the perfect literature review’, that I have convinced myself the only way to do so is to study every word ever written on my topic, before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, so to speak). My topic is time perspective. Writings on the psychology of time perception go back as far as the year 1781 (to the best of my knowledge). By this outrageous logic, I must therefore study, review and recall every detail of roughly 250 years of literature before I can even begin to write my introduction section. At that rate, my supervisor should receive the first draft of this introduction section by the year 2018 (I am a relatively slow reader). She is a patient woman, however given that it is in my research plan to submit for publication in December 2015, I imagine her patience would be tested to a large extent in this instance.

As I take my seat each day, vowing to be productive and do some writing, I am consumed with writing the perfect literature review. And what happens next? I am not sure how many of you will relate, but fear is what happens next. I am afraid to write in case I haven’t discovered the most important paper ever written in my field, identified the most influential thinker, or studiedthat thing that everybody else in the area knows, but I have yet to uncover. In essence, I am terrified that I will leave something important out…so nothing goes in! Even more ironic, I sit staring into space, contemplating what little time I have to read all of this literature, when I could actually be reading the literature! What a gigantic waste of my time!

Today, following a brief meltdown, I had an important conversation with a friend. She told me that it really doesn’t take an exceptional amount of intelligence to complete a PhD, but still many do not finish. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a reflection of intelligence, but rather of character, or more importantly, a reflection of one’s responsiveness and reaction to an intense and difficult character building process. And it hit me – more than I wish to write the perfect literature review, I hope to build my character and resilience to setbacks and meltdowns, enjoy the highs but learn from the mistakes, push through procrastination and panic, and acquire the skills and expertise necessary for a successful career in academia, all the while conducting research on a topic which gets me so excited that I could cartwheel, research which will never be perfect, but will be my best. This, I have been told, is good enough, and that, in my opinion, will be time well spent!

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