By Marta Antonetti
Being in a DPhil program means finding a way to contribute to the academic understanding of a topic while receiving training that will support our career in or outside of academia. However, being in a DPhil program also means learning how to take care of our mental health while performing highly specialised tasks under conditions of unique pressure that could be very stressful. Learning how to turn research into an activity we can “comfortably” live with should be considered as central to our DPhil training as it is learning how to pursue a publication –especially if we hope to dedicate our life to academia!
Here I will share with you some of the “note to myself” I've written to make my first year as a DPhil in the Social Sciences a stimulating and productive year, and most importantly, a healthy one!
-MAKE IT COLLABORATIVE AND SOCIAL: writing a DPhil is a very isolating process (regardless of whether you are in the middle of a pandemic). Finding a group of friends that are going through your same process can be precious, first of all, as a reminder that the problems you might face in your research are commonly shared problems. Moreover, talking to someone else about your research is the best way to make it progress quickly! Especially in an intellectually vibrant environment like Oxford, it is never a loss of your time to share your ideas with both your peers and established academics!
-GIVE YOURSELF A SCHEDULE TO BREAK IT: having a plan definitely helps to work with efficiency. However, although it might sound counterintuitive, I've found that the best plans are the ones made to create flexibility and ones that can be readjusted all the time. Ultimately schedules are useful for you to prioritise and distinguish necessary tasks from the ones you can drop when you're overburdening yourself.
-TIME SPENT FOR YOURSELF IS TIME WELL-SPENT TIME: having a schedule also means that you’re able to decide when you’re done for the day. Save some time to cultivate a hobby, your friendships, to put your feet up and ultimately be proud of having accomplished another day of work. Taking time for yourself is essential to get your energy back and be ready for another day. Indeed sometimes you might have to work longer hours than expected but this should not become your normality! If you wear out yourself you risk entering a vicious cycle of lack of energy and motivation, low productivity, and frustration –definitely not what you want!