Workshop on PhD well-being

Yesterday I went to a PhD workshop about “PhD Well-being & Systems thinking” given by Ryan Armstrong (Scientists Dating Forum / University of Barcelona) and held at the Department of Technology and Information Communication (DTIC) at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF).

Before the workshop, I did not know that recent studies have found that PhD students suffer mental health issues at alarmingly high levels, like around six times the level of the general population and similar levels as US military at war zone. Isn’t that insane?

This is an issue that not only impacts our productivity and program outcomes but also the long-term well-being of our development as researchers. To spread some light into it, Ryan prepared this workshop and gave it to us in a collaborative and action-oriented approach to generate awareness and empower us as PhD students. We used methods based on developed in psychology, organisational studies, and design thinking to provide a means of understanding and addressing the challenges that we PhD students face in a way that allowed for the variety of forms these usually take. Overall, we gained an increased awareness of the complexity of the issue, and we proposed in groups our own solution in a hands-on and supportive setting.

In my case, some of the issues I’m currently struggling the most while doing my PhD and that I shared with my colleagues are:

  • Trying to optimally organise me when multi-tasking (e.g., working in different projects and modalities such as reading/thinking/writing/programming, organising seminars, doing courses and workshops, running experiments at the lab…).
  • Misjudging the timing of the tasks that I should do when it’s the first time that I do them, especially with tasks involving writing and programming for data analysis.
  • Keeping a healthy life-work balance.

In the workshop, I found out that one of the possible solutions is organising my schedule based on my energy-level, willingness to do a task, and mental patterns. Let me explain myself better. When I’m multi-tasking, and I need to finish different things that differ in modality (reading writing, programming, organising, thinking…), I usually have a little room to chose which of the tasks I should do first and which ones after. So, being aware of which kind of energy and mental patterns I have (e.g., “I’m more productive during the afternoons rather than the mornings”, “I prefer to read and write in the mornings and programme in the afternoons”, “I’m more productive and resolutive at the end of the week rather than at the very beginning”…) then I can organise myself more optimally according to them in a more naturally. In this way, I’ll be coherent with these patterns and I’ll save some of my mornings to read articles (old and new), write in my blog, answer emails, organise my schedule, assist to meetings and seminars, and save my afternoons from programming and doing data analysis.

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