Here’s a novel idea: how about you take the weekend off?
Sadly, for many PhD students, having a weekend completely free of PhD work feels like a rare treat rather than a right. I often hear students I work with feel guilty about doing so, as if it’s somehow wrong, or a path to failure.
This shows the way that the thesis can take over your life and how, often without you realising it, you can end up married to it, and sit by as it crowds out other aspects of your life.
For me, the biggest difference between a happy and enjoyable PhD and one fraught with difficulty and stress isn’t intellectual prowess or the quality of your supervisor. Instead, it’s having adequate rest, downtime and leisure; it’s having a life outside the thesis, and space (both physical and mental) beyond the PhD.
For as long as there is an assumption or expectation (whether implicit or explicit) that PhD students must sacrifice their precious leisure time, students will find themselves becoming increasingly frazzled and disillusioned.
There’s no denying though that time is precious and there is sometimes a need to put in long or antisocial hours, particularly if you’ve got caring responsibilities, or you’re fitting your PhD around a job. But nevertheless, working on a weekend should be a voluntary choice made by some rather than an obligation upon all.
We need an end to the culture within PhD programmes that fetishises struggle and legitimises the diminution of leisure time because it has a destructive effect on the wellbeing of students.
What’s more, the belief that a greater number of hours translates into a greater output is misleading and inaccurate. After a while, you reach decreasing returns. The hours you spend working when you’re tired and burnt out are the unproductive ones. You reach a stage where the most effective thing you can do for your overall productivity is to take some time off, however counterintuitive that may feel.
So if you want one piece of advice this Friday afternoon it’s this: take the weekend off. Your thesis will still be there on Monday morning, and you’ll be better able to tackle it.
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