Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Life Interrupted

Apologies for the radio silence recently but things have been a little manic recently! The past 2-3 weeks have reminded me that as much as we can try to plan out our weeks, months, and years (life-plans and all that!) there will always be bumps along the way, be they big or small.

Almost 2 weeks ago I finished my four-month secondment to UCL Library Services, an experience which I absolutely loved. However, the last 2 weeks were a sprint to the end to get all my work done leaving little time for blogging. Then my family all came to Oxford to see me (finally!) graduate from my DPhil which was just a truly wonderful occasion (more on that in a dedicated post). I treated myself to a glorious week in sunny and historic Malta, before an unexpected return to Ireland for a funeral.

As a result of all of this, I am a little behind on getting my manuscript completed for submission to my editor by my deadline, and I am hoping that some leniency will be allowed. However, it did get me thinking about timelines for PhDs.

I've written more extensively about this in my book, The Honest PhD Guide (get yours here!). I was lucky in that I had so serious derailments in my PhD timescale. Mostly, the extension into the 4th year was a result of jobs and extra-curricular activities (none of which I would trade as they have got me the job I have now). But contingencies do need to be built into timeframes for PhD as hiccups and hurdles will occur. And they can manifest in different shapes, sizes, and severity:
  • Having to change the direction of your thesis when you discover someone has already published on your exact topic
  • Changes in supervisors
  • Problems of access to resources or sources
  • Experiments not working
  • Major corrections / referrals
  • Illness
  • Mental health
  • Care-giving
  • Bereavement

While it is important to have a plan and a timescale (both in academia and in life), it is so important to build contingencies into that timescale, and to not beat yourself up when you go over the time you have given yourself or missed a deadline you have set yourself. And if it is an externally set deadline, don't be afraid to speak up about your concerns about missing a deadline. I've always found that most people are incredibly understanding, sympathetic, and willing to help.

So this week I am starting my final placement 3 days later than planned. And I am about to email my editor to explain my situation and see if I can have a few days grace with my deadline. The worst that anyone can say is no, so there is nothing lost by asking.

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