PhD & Downtime I


Things we like to do to relax…

Krystina Osborne

Yoga

I had wanted to try yoga for a while before I actually plucked up the courage to start attending classes. My reluctance stemmed from the assumption that I would be terrible at it. I soon learned that you can’t be ‘bad’ at yoga: just don’t expect to be performing headstands in your first class! Your body will feel stronger and more flexible as you go on. Happily, my university offers a free gym membership to all undergraduate and postgraduate students, which includes a couple of yoga classes per week. On the days when I cannot spare the time or energy to travel to the gym, I rely on the Yoga Studio app (visit @YogaStudioApp or http://yogastudioapp.com/ to find out more), which offers 65 classes, covering beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. I find that yoga really helps with PhD-related anxieties and I always feel calmer afterwards, even if the class only lasted ten minutes. Try it! I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pokémon Go

The Pokémon Go app is my new obsession. I’d call it a guilty pleasure except that I don’t feel any guilt about it whatsoever. The app requires you to go outside to catch Pokémon, thus leaving behind your laptop and books, if only for half an hour (unless you become completely addicted!). Therefore, you get the benefits of exercising, without really thinking about it. Plus, we all know how intense and mentally exhausting studying on a PhD programme can be. Thinking about something else for a while is absolutely essential for your mental health, and thus beneficial in the long run. Plus, there are plenty of Pokémon hiding around university campuses…

Reading for Pleasure

When I first started studying for my PhD, a few people recommended that I remember to make time for reading for pleasure. For a while, this seemed impossible: I had to read primary texts, literary criticism, theoretical texts, journal articles, plus the primary texts and related material associated with the modules I taught on. Where would I find the time to read for pleasure too? However, for PhD students in English Literature like myself, a love of books and reading is usually what inspired us to study Literature in the first place. You don’t want to associate the act of reading with the often stressful nature of university work, as sometimes happens to undergraduates (one of my students recently told me that she couldn’t wait for the summer ‘when I won’t have to read anything for ages’). I now read for pleasure on my commute, choosing books as far away from my research area as possible. I recently finished a 500-page book on the history of American true crime. Will it improve my thesis? No. Was it a waste of time? Absolutely not.

A Non-Academic Job

It may sound strange to advocate getting a non-academic job whilst studying for your PhD. For many PhD students like myself, it is simply a financial necessity, and there are obvious pitfalls. I often obsess over the progress I could have made on my thesis if only I didn’t have to waste time at work (look out for a Tuesday Top Tip on ‘Working alongside your PhD’ in the near future). Having said that, it is also a strange relief to go into work knowing that I have to focus on something other than my thesis for a change. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that stressed-out PhD students should start applying for jobs in retail as a form of relaxation, I’m merely pointing out that working outside academia – even for one day a week – can help you get some much-needed perspective, allowing you to return to your thesis with a renewed sense of purpose.