PhD Plank Challenge

It struck me this week that a PhD can kind of be related to the plank challenge – and not just because I’m struggling with them both. The idea of the plank challenge is that you improve your ability at something (planking) by incrementally increasing the amount (time) that you do over a number of days/weeks. It started as planking for 20 seconds for the first couple of days, then it increased to 30 seconds for a few days, then to 45, then a minute and so on. It works on the basis that you slowly improve every day – it takes dedication. It’s no good doing the first three days and then ignoring it for a week – when you come back to it, it will have increased the difficulty but you’ll have less foundational ability to draw from having let yourself slide back into having the core strength of overcooked spaghetti. I think the PhD is the same.

You enter into the PhD with the naïve belief that this first bit will be easy, you might even be able to skip ahead the first few steps and jump in at the middle and let the challenge improve you from there. You would be wrong. You’ll find yourself panting and grimacing for twenty seconds and dropping thankfully to the floor when the timer goes off. Some people would let this discourage them, some let it make them determined. The Thesis Whisperer recently wrote a blog about the reasons people drop out of PhDs, and a lot of it seemed to be due to discouragement and lack of motivation. Once you fall off track, it’s harder to get back on, so perhaps the best thing to do is to keep chugging, even if it’s only a centimetre a day.

Anyway, back to my plank challenge analogy. So, you’ve accepted that you have to start at the beginning, you’ve overcome the first couple of hurdles, you’ve probably strained a toe due to bad technique, but you can see yourself getting better. You can’t necessarily see the results yet (abs are a long way off) but you might start to believe that one day it’s possible. Here’s the thing, even when you’re improving, there are going to be days when you struggle. There are going to be times when it takes you a week to complete one day’s challenge when it’s bumped up to 1 minute 30. There is going to be times when you backslide from where you were yesterday, and maybe yesterday was a fluke and you’ll actually never do that well again. The key thing is to keep on trying. Even if you don’t do as well as you did yesterday, even if you don’t improve as quickly as the app seems to think you should, you’re still making progress. Claim the small victories.

On that note, this will be my last Friday post, not that anyone cares, but I’ve decided that Mondays would be more useful. This is largely due to the video I watched last weekend of James Hayton talking about how to survive a PhD (that I summarised in this blog post). Hayton says that you should start each day with a small manageable task so that you begin with an achievement to buoy you onwards. I’ve decided to expand on this and start each working week with a summary of my achievements of the week before. Start the week by claiming a small victory. I found that writing the Hayton blog post this Monday set my week off to a good start and made me feel like I’d achieved something, which encouraged me to extend my winning streak throughout the week. It’s also a relatively easy task to get me used to being back at my desk and thinking critically after a Sunday of slobbing around in PJs chain watching whatever series I’m currently hooked on.

I haven’t written anything this week, but I’ve been reading up on phenomenology and I’m slowly coming to terms with its intricacies (slowly). I’ve felt a huge sense of relief since I sent my last piece of work, as it was something that had been hanging over me for months. Now I get to read new bits of theory just to see if they’re useful, which is lush.

I had a meeting with my supervisors yesterday which was really positive. They seemed to like the piece of work I’d sent, which has made me feel much better since the paperwork cock up. My director of studies asked me loads of really challenging questions about my project – where I lay my hat in the particular theoretical continuum I’m working on, what stances I most identify with, what definitions I’m using for my terms and why. These are all ideas that I’ve vaguely thought about in the process of my PhD so far, but they’re also all tricky enough that I’ve kind of been working around them and hoping that they’ll magically fall into place without me having to tax myself too much…that’s not really how academia works though, I guess. It might be handy if I start directing my weekly 1000 words at these questions, and any others that are raised, so at the end, even if I have thousands of words not necessarily for my thesis, at least I’ll have a thought out reasoning for multiple aspects of my terminology, stance and theory. We’ll see.

Word count: 0

Gym sessions: 0 (whoops)

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