I can do this. Wait, can I? Nope, I can’t do this. 

I can do this. This is the right place for me. I know exactly what I’m doing. I always spend my time in the most productive way.  

Is feeling like this the reality?

Well, it isn’t the case for me that’s for sure. Every second of my time is not spent solely on my research and all things PhD related (shhhh),a lot of my time is spent organising things ‘life’ related. And sometimes, it can all pile up and seem like there is a mountain of things that you cannot see yourself ever getting done, which can lead to an awful feeling of self- doubt, which usually ends up in a downward spiral and that is really really not a good (or productive) feeling.

When I decided to tackle a life as a scientist in research I was told that this journey would be unlike anything I have done or will ever do, and boy – oh – boy has that been right on the nose so far. I remember meeting students that were going through the PhD journey and their general mood being in the ‘tired – what the heck am I doing’ range. Some tried to warn of this path and others gave me tips that involved a WHOLE BUNCH OF CAFFEINE (which naturally I was more than happy to try out). And I remember thinking – naively – that I am prepared. I WAS NOT PREPARED. No No No No NO! 1.5 years later and I still have days where I feel completely lost and am filled with self doubt. When that happens I usually go one of two – ways: 1) I go into overdrive, work crazy hours and take very minimal breaks  or 2) I shut down and basically try to put off doing any ‘real’ work. Neither of which are good options. Whhiiccchhh brings me back to the point I was trying to tackle at the beginning of this post (we went on a bit of a tangent there didn’t we?). How you use your time is important and your mood actually has a large influence on how you decide to spend it. It might not be something we realise however our emotion can dictate a lot of how we move forward so remember to account for downtime or you’ll burn out.

Also, having a good support system does help when things get really bad. This can be your co-workers/team, family or friends. For me, the downward spiral usually comes to a close with a combination of these:

  • My family – I don’t live with them and we’re pretty tight knit so it can get tough. When I’m having a particularly bad case of self doubt, they tend to get around 50 FaceTime calls a day. And I can be pretty grumpy so they’re all good eggs for dealing with me 😛
  • My friends (family part 2) – we usually discuss totally random things to distract each other, a pick me up here and there, joke around, a minute of serious talking, a whole bunch of light heartedness, then the ‘Mother’ of the group does the tough love thing and motivation gets kicked back in.
  • My cousin – again, we don’t live close to each other – but day or night she’s got my back.
  • My supervisor – I have to say, I have been incredibly fortunate with my supervisor and if I really am struggling with something I know I can go to him with it.
  • Praying – my faith is something very important and personal to me. So when things are not going the way I planned, it really helps me to calm down and look at the whole situation with a different perspective.

 

Well, I think we’ve come to the end of this post. I started this with an idea of what I’d like to say but as I started to write it kind of took on a life of itself. I decided to keep with it, because I think that it’s important to show that sometimes good things can come out of something unplanned (I hope!).

So I hope you enjoyed this and remember you’re not alone :).

Keep Reading,

H 🌺

 

 

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Thank you Madrid!

So my last post on here was written pretty soon after I reached Madrid for my 2 and a half month research/training trip. It is safe to say that arriving in Madrid with the worst cold I’ve had in a long time put a haze of sadness over what I thought was in store for me. I spent that first weekend (and pretty much week) wrapped up in bed only leaving the flat to go to work.

Fast forward 9 weeks and cannot believe how quickly I have fallen in love with Spain. As I sit here in the airport waiting to catch my flight back home I can’t help but think back to everything I have learnt during my time here.

Apart from being introduced to a new language (which I’m still fairly shy to speak but I WILL get better). I have experienced a new culture, which yes of course was strange for me at first, but once I embraced it, parts become second nature (namely the coffee and food parts).

I became more confident in my skills as a scientist and my ability to work in new and different environments with changing teams. I was taught new skills by experts in parasitology diagnosis and I learnt that even they, these wonderfully intelligent people get stressed, have doubts and experience days where they want to just give up.

Uprooting my ‘life’ for 3 (ish) months taught me so much about myself. Firstly, I CAN do it. It may not always seem like it but I’ve actually come quite far from the person that started her PhD journey a year ago.

I really like learning about different cultures, countries and their history and it is fairly naive to think that only your matters.

I’m leaving Spain with new loves but also the most comfortable I have ever been with myself. I’m a young South African, British, Manx, Muslim, Female Scientist and I love each part and the role they have played in shaping me.

This experience reinforced what my parents have always told me: that opportunities are all around you but nothing will just fall into your lap. You have to work hard for what you want. The world will not think it owes you anything. But you owe yourself to be/do the best you can.

I’m going to end this post with one piece of advice: Just go for it.

Keep Reading!

H 🙂

Let’s move to Spain! (for a few months anyway)

Hello Hello Hello!

This is the first post of 2017 and it’s coming to you all the way from Madrid!

I’ve been out here for two weeks for work/training and so far it has amazing. The city is so vibrant and lively. The architecture is INCREDIBLY beautiful and the people are lovely. You can wander the streets of Madrid for hours on end and not get bored. Even if you get lost there’s no need to worry because all you need to do is find one of the many Metro stations dotted around and you’re all set again. As amazing as it’s been, it has definitely been a little bit of an adjustment work wise. Moving to a new country, getting used to a new atmosphere, culture and language will take a little time but I’m looking forward to the rest of the experience :).

In the two weeks I’ve been here this is what I’ve noticed:

  • The general environment (not just at work I suppose) is waaayyyyy more chilled than in the UK.
  • You WILL have MANY coffee breaks.
  • Lunch is generally  at like 3/4pm, which means it’s not unusual for dinner/supper/your evening meal to be around 9.30pm.
  • Travel is pretty cheap (20 Euros for a thirty day travel card!)
  • Even if your Spanish is awful (which mine is) people really do appreciate it when you try.
  • There are a crazy amount of Pharmacies, I don’t know why, but I’m pretty sure I counted around 6 on one street.
  • THE COFFEE IS AMAZING.
  • Madrid is a city of hidden gems, and I love just walking around (somewhat aimlessly) and stumbling upon cute little streets/areas.

I’m so excited to spend the next couple of months here and explore the city and culture more so, if anyone has any tips or recommendations on where to visit let me know!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

 

 

5 things every phd student should have.

Hi everyone!

I thought I’d write a short post about what, after near enough a year, I have found I can’t really live without.

So here they are – the FIVE things that I will not leave for university without.

  • diary / calendar – because well, how else are you meant to keep track of the HUNDREDS of things you have to do in a day?
  • good headphones – these have two  uses: 1. put on whatever gets you in the mood to be the most productive 2. if you don’t want to listen to anything, put these in and you’ll have blocked out any background noise.
  • a meeting book – you’ll probably have more than one meeting a day and meetings tend to follow on from each other so by having a dedicated book you can have a record of each meeting you attend in one easy to find place.
  • organisational stationary – plastic wallets, folders, post-its, paperclips, stapler/staples. You’ll always need them so just don’t take them out of your bag.
  • a decent water bottle – keep hydrated people! I tend to spend a lot of times in labs where drinking/eating is a major no no, but when I’m back in the office it’s always good to find a bottle of water in my bag. Staying hydrated helps with your focus and to relieve headaches.

There you have it, the 5 things I think every PhD student should have.

Keep Reading!

H :).

Long Breaks vs Short & Frequent

Hey Guys :).

For this post I decided to address a question I get asked quite a lot – is it better to have one long break during the year or have multiple short/quick ones throughout it?

Both of these have pros and cons. So let’s start with a Long Break.

Pros

  • There is enough time between the beginning and end to actually relax.
  • You have something big and exciting to look forward to.
  • The time off will allow you to miss and appreciate your work much more.

Cons

  1. You are taking a big chunk of time out of your research/work.
  2. If you decide to have a completely work free time, you will most likely miss out on announcements, events and deadlines.
  3. Regardless of how you left it – your work WILL pile up.

Short & Frequent.

Pros

  • You can have lots of these in the year.
  • You have something to look forward to.
  • They can help plan your work/research by seperating them into shorter managable ‘chunks’.

Cons

  1. Usually only a couple of days.
  2. Can interrupt the work flow.
  3.  You try to pack a lot into a short time so you can come out the other just as tired.

There will inevitably be more to add to these lists but I just wanted to give a quick and simple idea of what to expect.

From personal experience of taking a Long Break, I think I’ll be sticking to the Short & Frequent approach going forward. Though it was good to have an extended time off, the work pile up and time being out of touch with my work was not worth it for me. It wasn’t all bad though, I had sufficient time to unwind, spend time with family and being away reminded me how much I actually enjoy what I do – and being reminded of your passion is never a bad thing :).

My advice would be with whichever approach you decide to take, way up the pros and cons and how they will affect you before making the decision.

Oh, and it’s not a bad thing to need a break. It may be hard to admit that at some point it’s all getting a bit too much but more than likely everyone around is feeling a similar way and it’s okay not to be okay.

 

Keep Reading!

H. 🙂

 

 

 

 

PhD life and Ramadhan

Hello everyone!

Let me start of by saying I know it’s been quite some time since my last post – it has been a MANIC few weeks! Hopefully, at least a small portion of the craziness will pay off!

For this post I decided to do something a little more personal than my others. As I’m sure we’re all aware our personal beliefs, ideals, morals and faith play a part of the person we are and in turn the type of student/employee/teacher we become.

Ramadhan:

This week (06/06/2016) marked the beginning of the 9th Month of the Islamic calendar (Ramadhan). This is the time of the year when Muslims all around the world fast; abstaining from food, water, worldly desires and urges (whatever these may be for the individual) from dawn to sunset for the entire month.

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar phases the time of Ramadhan changes annually and in 2016 it has fallen during the summer months in the northern hemisphere (June-July).

For most undergraduate students it means that the academic year is over and exams are coming to an end, if not finished and they’ve gone home.

But for some (like me!) the year is not over. We are still running around campus trying to conduct experiments, working full days (and maybe nights?), going to presentations/ conferences or doing a bunch of other things that are just part of the usual day.

During Ramadhan – Muslims try to involve themselves in more prayer. One way is by praying Taraweeh – this is an additional prayer that is performed at night (which can last around an hour).

So with this in mind and in addition to the lovely weather we’ve been having it is no wonder that tiredness creeps in at the oddest times!

This first week (for me) has been a lot of trial and error of which is the best way to plan my day. So here’s what I found:

Start the day a little later than usual (if you have that option) I usually start the day at 8 am, but during Ramadhan I’ve found it much better to start around 10am (maybe 11 :P) and work later into the evening.

Take time out to Pray the 5 Daily Salaah at the recommended time (this will change place to place) it allows you to have breaks in your day. Also try to pray some Qur’an (Islamic Holy Book) after each prayer.

Having Iftar / fatoor (post -sunset meal) on your own IS NOT FUN. Trying going to the local mosque / prayer room (we’re fortunate enough to have one on campus) and breaking your fast with others or invite friends over to join in this time with you.

DRINK LOTS OF WATER *during Suhoor (pre-fasting meal).

If you feel a burst of energy USE IT.

Listen to your body – if you really need a 30 minute power nap, take it. Not only do you need to be alert for your work day but for the night to.

It’s easier than you think to burn yourself out.

Remember: Ramadhan is the time to be the best version of yourself, so don’t use it as an excuse to let your work/effort slip. Instead use it as ‘training’ for the future, as a way to plan and use your time more efficiently.

I hope this was help for you and may this be the best Ramadhan for you yet!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

What’s for breakfast?

Hi everyone!

As students (or maybe just people in general?)  we all need more of one thing.

That’s right I’m talking about SLEEP. So it’s sometimes easy to choose those 20 minutes of sleep over a good breakfast but in the long run that is NOT a good idea.

It’s easy to grab a cup of coffee on the way out the door or even when you get to campus/work but come 10.30am and your caffeine high starts to drop you are going to regret the decision to forgo that good breakfast.

Starting the day of well can set your mood and productivity for the rest of the day. It’s not easy to change habits you’ve had for years, especially if you don’t know where to start. So here are some ideas 🙂

I like to start of everyday with hot water, lemon, mint and a dash of honey and then usually go on to one of my quick and easy breakfasts:

Oats with peanut butter – as my father says “peanut butter fixes everything!”

Breakfast smoothie – Banana, coconut milk, natural yoghurt, 2tsp of coffee and 1 scoop of ice cream/frozen yoghurt.

Rice cakes with Avocado with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Omelette (peppers,mushrooms, onions, cheese)

Usually accompanied by either tea/coffee (depends on the mood I’m in :P)

So let’s try to start the day with a better breakfast. It may take some time to get used to but it’ll be worth it when you do.

From one reformed breakfast skipper to (hopefully) another!

Keep Reading,

H ☺️

Spring Spring Spring.

Anyone else love it when the sun shines? It can completely change the mood of people, a town, a university and even a country.

So it’s no surprise I’ve been having more good days than bad this past few weeks and it is a great feeling!The same fears are still there but I feel so much more motivated to get out of bed and tackle the stacks of paper (electronic and physical).

If you’re like me and love the sunshine, use it as a motivating tool. For every hour of work/revision you do (and actual work not just an hour of sitting in front of your laptop refreshing social media) give yourself ten minutes of sunshine love. Or try and sit near a window to get those beams ☺️. It really does make a difference!

So lets make the most of the rays!

Keep Reading,

H ☺️.

Is it a Break?

Hey Everyone!

So March is nearly coming to an end and it has gone by so incredibly fast but has been packed with SO MUCH.

At the beginning of the month I had this very real feeling that there was no way I was going to be able to do/finish everything I had set for the next few weeks. This then turned into major panic – you know that feeling when you realise there’s so much to do, so you make lists and lists and then the lists have lists and you’re dotting from one thing to another not knowing when or how you’re ever going to get it done – yeah (not good).

I realised that I had to nip this in the bud. Feeling this way was not helping the situation at all. So I decided to take a step back and attempt to organise all these thoughts and tasks (okay, so it took more than two attempts – at least). I spoke to my family, friends, colleagues and supervisor (who is just the best most encouraging and helpful supervisor I could have asked for!) about the feeling that and they all reassured me that it was normal. They also gave me some very helpful and practical tips to tackling it (some were new and some I had already been trying to do):

  1. Talk to people about your research (within the limits set) – this will help you to understand what you’re doing and why a lot better. It will also raise questions about the practicality and time frame of what you’re doing – this will help to focus yourself. It’s also increased my passion for my research.
  2. Establish a good relationship with your supervisor. This is vital and can completely alter your experience.
  3. Set time limits – not just ‘an hour to write’ but what should you have done in that hour. Be specific.
  4. Exercise everyday – even if it’s just a walk, do something.
  5. Have a good breakfast – this I find hard to do everyday because I think ‘Well, I could have 20 minutes more of sleep’ but on the days that I do it – I can really feel the difference in my energy levels and productivity.
  6. Figure out when you are most productive – everyone is different but figure out if it’s morning, evening or afternoon for you and set that time side for the pieces that require your most effort.
  7. PUT THAT PHONE AWAY – limit the amount of time you spend on Whatsapp, texting or on social media. If you don’t want to turn if off use the Do not disturb/equivalent option or put it on flight mode.
  8. Plan the day the night before – this can mean making sure you have the right books/journals/protocols in your bag, having a schedule/aims for the day, figuring out what to wear or even whats for breakfast. I like to do this toward the end of the night (usually with a warm drink and something on in the background), not only do I prepare myself for the next day but it gives me time to unwind before I sleep.

Though it is still the busiest I have ever been, I feel so much better about going forward. I know it is not going to be easy and those pangs of sheer panic will still be there BUT I know I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

To anyone going through something similar, I hope this helps and remember you are not alone!

Keep Reading,

H 🙂

Short and Sweet

Today marks International Women’s Day 2016- though I think that strength, perseverance, and achievements have the the right to be celebrated whenever you want, it is no surprise with the busy lives that we live that sometimes it slips our minds.Which is where I think days like this can be beneficial, it reminds us of all the wonderful projects that women are pursuing, the heartbreaking circumstances and trials that women are facing, the causes that women are fighting for and the amazing women that have influenced your life (in any shape at all).

So today (even with our busy lives) celebrate the influential women in your life.

Keep Reading,

H 🙂