Photo of scrabble tiles spelling "goodbye"Kaitlin Gallagher is a PhD Candidate specializing in Biomechanics in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a permanent author for GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @KtlnG.

All good things must come to an end. I’ve had a wonderful time writing for GradHacker over the past two years, but this will be my last post. Many of my previous posts have centered on how to manage the stress and the overwhelming nature of grad school. My guest post before I became a permanent author was about the mid-degree crisis I was facing. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that crisis set off a string of events that got me to where I am today. I’m now finishing my degree and will be starting a tenure-track job in January. I’m walking proof that you too can finish your PhD in four years and come away with what you want when your degree is done.

I put a lot of thought into what I wanted my last post to be about. A year ago I read Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. The author discusses how concentrating on a single pattern or theme that  shapes every aspect of your life works to transform habits habits. This really sat with me long after reading the book. I’ve continuously thought to myself, “When I have my own lab, what would I want my theme to be?” Knowing what my future grad students could go through, none of my potential themes spanned the personal and professional situations that they would go through. So I thought – what is the biggest thing that changed from my mid-degree crisis to now? I began to take care of myself.

Now, I can almost hear the groans over the internet. How obvious, eh? Well, if it’s so obvious, why do so many of us struggle to do it? We skip meals, pull all-nighters, become hermits, stop exercising, work too many hours of the week, do too many things at once, neglect our friends and family because we are “too busy.”

Over the past year I’ve always asked questions about how the decisions I make will have an affect on my well-being. For personal reasons, I was extremely overwhelmed when I began my thesis data collection. Day in and day out, I didn’t know what to do, and my mid-degree crisis developed into a full-blown crisis. I had no choice but to take care of myself at this point. I started to talk about what was going on. I began to find ways to combat how overwhelmed I was, such as the use of checklists. I did some pretty weird stuff to make sure that I wasn’t overwhelmed, like write individual steps of my data collection on cue cards and go over them before I would collect. I was also ashamed that I had to do these things to calm myself down. The key thing though is that I calmed down, even when working outside of my comfort zone. I got the job done and took care of myself in the process. Now I’m in the final stretch, and every day I ask myself how the choices I’m making are affecting my physical and mental health.

I like the idea of a concentrating on theme because advice doesn’t always apply to everyone, but a theme can. No matter what you’re doing, you can always ask yourself how to get through a situation while still taking care of yourself and working towards your goals. Maybe your way of taking care of yourself is taking a trip to visit a friend, asking for help around the lab, creating new ways to do things,  saying no, planning your meals ahead of time so that you can eat well, forming a writing group, taking a shower, telling your family that you aren’t doing well, or quitting your degree.

Thanks to all the constructive comments and feedback on my posts. It was definitely a great experience to be able to provide some insight into grad school life, and I hope that I was able to help a few of you out. My final request is that whatever point you are in your degree and whatever decisions you make, keep the theme of self-care in your mind at all times.

[Image by Flickr user woodleywonderworks used under creative commons licensing.]


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