How to finish a PhD – part one: BREATHE!

It’s hard to find an image that better fits a PhD (and in fact, an academic career) than that of the juggler with a dozen balls in the air and all the pressure in the world not to drop any. Except, for me, it’s not quite accurate – I’m the one who is so inept at juggling that I’m cowering somewhere away from the scene, frankly a little afraid of even trying to keep all the things I’m meant to be doing on the go.

Top academics (and Harry Styles):


I’m not a disorganised person, and I don’t struggle with stiff workloads, so I’m certain that I’m not the only nearly-finished PhD student who occasionally feels overwhelmed by the multiple pressures of finishing a thesis, publishing papers, reviewing for journals, applying for postdocs, AND doing as much paid teaching as possible to survive.

Looking back over the last three and a half years, there are scraps of advice that stand out – and things I’ve discovered for myself – that either have stood me in good stead, or are things I rather wish I’d paid more attention to. From here ’til the Big Hand In, that’s what I’ll be writing about – hopefully to the benefit of others in similar positions.


Rule #1: BREATHE!

I’ve just returned from a glorious three week switch-off holiday in South Africa – no work, no email, no worries. By the end I was completely refreshed and so ready to come back and nail this thesis to the floor – hooray! Mission accomplished! But, when I’d actually returned to the office and read through all my emails and taken stock of what was ahead, the work I had to get back into seemed like a mountain – impenetrable, insurmountable.

“Don’t be a berk,” said Loving Boyfriend, “it’ll be fine.”


After a few days of procrastinating and avoidance I realised he was right. I am a berk. In the times when there just seems too much to even start tackling, I have to remember the most imperative thing: breathe. Don’t panic. Take it a bit at a time. Chip away one little rock today, and tomorrow the mountain won’t feel so big.




2 thoughts on “How to finish a PhD – part one: BREATHE!

  1. Jane Oswald Russell

    You once wrote sonnets. A mere 30,000 word thesis is totally manageable. Well, at least you don’t have to find rhymes! Good luck, and have faith in your ability to tackle it a bite at a time.

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