Second year blues and how to beat them

The second year blues is often something that you hear about in the first year of your PhD, but is difficult to fully grasp until it creeps up on you. It may not happen in your second year, but this seems to be the most common time that PhD students experience a dip. There are many blogs that have described this period in the PhD process, and for me, the most useful one is from The Thesis Whisperer. If you are feeling like everything is getting on top of you, just take a few minutes to read about ‘The Valley of Shit’, it will help.  I’m not going to use this post to describe the second year blues using a clever analogy as it has been done many a time. For me, it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my work and that caused me to lose motivation and confidence. Any work I did wasn’t good enough in my eyes, even if my supervisors said it was. I just didn’t believe them. But the important thing to remember is that you won’t feel like this forever. The PhD process is fraught with highs and lows, and there are plenty of things that you can do to help you through the bad times.

grad-school-spiral-of-doubt

Firstly, it is vital to look after your own health. Working long hours in the office takes its toll, and can often make you feel more stressed. This is because it takes longer for you to get work done because you are tired from working so many hours. It is counterproductive, and can be a vicious circle. Try not to work weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. Eat healthily, have a good amount of sleep, and do some exercise. Exercise is a great distraction from work, and gives your brain a rest. Make sure you also have time off. Treat the PhD like a 9-5 job because this means that you are allowed to have multiple holidays during the year. N.B. Fieldwork does not count as a holiday! Finally, talk to other PhD students around you. They may be going through something similar, or will have done in the past. Just knowing that you are not on your own can feel like a weight off your mind.

grad-school-energy-levels

In terms of work, the way to get through is to keep ploughing on. It is common to feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall when you are doing a PhD, but something will change. You’ll find a paper you had missed that leads you onto a new line of research, or a landowner will finally get back to you with permission to access a vital field site. Don’t think about the project as a whole because this is overwhelming, focus on doing the little things. Lastly, remember that you are being paid to research a subject that you enjoy (unless you are self-funded, but that’s another story) and you are not working in a boring job that you hate where you have to be in work at specific hours.

things-grad-students

Fran Falcini

PhD student at the University of York

Report from the BSG Research Sub-committee meeting, February 13th, 2013

The BSG Research Sub-committee (RC), chaired by Professor Steve Darby (University of Southampton), met at the University of Leeds on Feb 13th, 2013, as part of its biannual cycle and I was invited to attend as a representative of the BSG Postgraduate Forum. The intention was to gain insight into the role of the RC as the decision-makers for the BSG Grants and Awards, the mechanics of this process and to seek clarification from the Committee on issues raised by BSG postgraduate members and subsequently relay this information back to all BSG PG’s.

Firstly, a number of important points relevant to all PG’s:

  • There are two BSG grant rounds per year, February and September
  • The next deadline is September 30th, 2013
  • There are two types of grant available to PG’s – Postgraduate Research Grants (up to £1000) and Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grants (up to £1000, or £250 for the BSG AGM)
  • The RC strongly encourage applications from Postgraduates for these awards (but note comments below for advice on the best time to submit applications)
  • The Dick Chorley Medal and Award is given each year for the most significant, original publication by a Postgraduate (or 3 years from graduation)
  • Anyone is able to nominate candidates for the Chorley award (including self-nominations!) and the RC are keen to attract as many nominations as possible each year

Feedback from the RC

–          The RC emphasised proposals are treated primarily on scientific merit, so it is the applicant’s responsibility to demonstrate this effectively from their respective branches of geomorphology. Further guidance regarding the evaluation procedure is available on the BSG website and all applicants are strongly encouraged to examine these in detail. It was also emphasised that each application is viewed independently of prior applications, whether successful or not, and indeed they encourage re-submission of unsuccessful applications.

–          One important procedural change that affects PG grant submissions is that, with effect from the next round there will no longer be a requirement for two supporting statements (one from a Supervisor and one from a Head of Department). In future rounds, only a reference from each candidate’s Supervisor will be required. However, it is essential the supervisor’s reference explicitly confirms the registration status of the applicant and clearly states the source of any additional funds required to complete the proposed work. PGs should also be aware that it is their responsibility to ensure that supervisor’s upload their references into the grant application prior to the stated deadline – incomplete applications cannot be assessed.

–          Efforts are on-going to improve the online application process as the RC is aware of some technical issues. The possibility of auto-generated emails to PG applicants to confirm receipt of the supervisor supporting statement will also be investigated.

–          The Committee noted some Postgraduate Research Grant applications to the February round requested funds to support fieldwork comprising a core part of the PhD and they are concerned by this pathway. Instead, their preference is to support complementary avenues of research and I feel it is important to bring this to the attention of all PG’s.

–          It is at the Committee’s discretion to split the annual budgeted funds across the two grant rounds. In the past the committee have tended to split their available funds equally between the two funding rounds, but at the February meeting it was noted that more applications tend to be received in February than September. The committee are monitoring demand closely to ensure that available funds are matched to patterns of demand from applicants

–          It was noted that applicants to the Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant in their 1st year may be more likely to receive financial support to attend the BSG AGM, whereas those in subsequent years, who have obtained more substantive data and a clear research pathway, will likely be able to put forward a stronger application to support attendance at international conferences.

–          Professor Mark Bateman holds the role of Grants Award Officer which includes compiling the grant assessments from each RC member and informing applicants of the RC decisions and he highlighted his willingness to provide feedback in the cases of unsuccessful proposals.

–          The 2013 BSG Annual General Meeting is being held at Royal Holloway University of London (9th – 11th September, 2013) and, following the great success of the Workshop held last year in Nottingham, a similar event will be run this year by Professor Steve Darby and Professor Phil Ashworth (ex-RC chair) on writing effective RCUK grant proposals. This is scheduled to take place on the Monday morning (Sept 9th) prior to the official opening of the conference and more information is available on the AGM website (http://www.geomorphology.org.uk/assets/agms/documents/bsg_nerc_workshop_2013.pdf). Professor Darby also stated he will make himself available to all BSG members during a pre-arranged timeslot to answer queries related to the BSG grant application procedures. Note that a ‘Meet the Editors’ session has been also proposed following the success of the Workshop last year.

I hope this information has been clear and has been of value to other PG’s, please do get in touch if there are any other queries you feel I may be able to answer.

Daniel Schillereff                                                                               
BSG Postgraduate Forum member
School of Environmental Sciences
University of Liverpool
dns@liv.ac.uk
+44 (0) 151 794 2858

 

Tweeting the EGU

I recently attended the EGU in Vienna. This was my first major conference and I was the only member from my research group to attend, so my existing contacts were limited to say the least. It is commonly accepted wisdom that conferences are the place to network and meet future collaborators (and possibly even employers). As a final year PhD this was a great opportunity; but how to make the most of it?

I gathered advice from my colleagues and got some good tips on networking, but I was determined to also try and use a fairly new tool in the academic arsenal; that of social media. I have been using Twitter to talk about my research and experiences of doing a PhD for about 6 months and I had heard how effective this tool was for people at the AGU meeting the previous autumn.

I knew a few academics I “follow” on Twitter (but had never met) were going to the EGU and in the run-up to the conference I saw many more people talking about it using the official “hashtag” (#EGU2012). Hashtags allow all Twitter users to easily track conversations and comments on a particular theme, in this case anyone mentioning the EGU. This meant I could get information from people I had never come across before, and likewise anything I said could reach a wider audience. You could think of it as a gigantic academic group email!

While at the conference I shared sessions I enjoyed, interesting looking talks I had pencilled in, as well as other conference minutiae. Where I had a gap in my timetable I’d often take a punt on a session someone else had mentioned, including enjoyable talks on such diverse topics as the geomorphology of Mars and reducing hydrological uncertainty.

Over the course of the five days I met several people through Twitter and discussed their research, I got an invitation to a drinks reception for the journal Sedimentology and met the editors and I also met the people behind the EGU’s media team and got an invite to join their blog network. These were all things that would not have happened without Twitter. A great peripheral benefit was by meeting a few people through Twitter it gave me the confidence to start striking up more conversations with other delegates in general.

I was presenting a poster in the final slot on Friday, almost as the Vienna centre was being packed away around me, and the most satisfying part of the week was the half-dozen or so people I’d met earlier in the week thanks to Twitter who came along specifically to see my poster and have a chat.

Even with a wealth of shared interests being in the middle of 11,000 strangers can be a lonely place, and my experience is by using social media we can forge links with a diverse range of people and make conference attendance a richer experience, particularly for early career researchers.

Post written by Simon Dixon (@WoodinRivers)

Geography and Environment

University of Southampton

Read more about Simon’s experiences of using social media in academia on the University of Southampton Geography and Environment Postgraduate Blog:

http://room1077.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/science-social-media-pt-1/

http://room1077.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/science-social-media-pt-2/

http://room1077.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/lists-for-twitter/