Knowing When to Take a Break

If you’ve been following my Blogtober posts, you might have noticed that I missed a day yesterday. I just did not have the time to get a blog post written and uploaded.
I had planned to do it on Tuesday night, but I ended up getting caught up with some freelance work and then packaging and sorting my shop orders took way longer than I thought it would. Yesterday just seemed to go by in a blur; in the morning I was doing a viva for an MSci student that I’ve been supervising whilst she’s been away on placement all year. After that I had a Mandarin Chinese lesson (I’ll talk more about this in another blog post – it’s so much fun!), and then by the time I got back to my desk, sorted out my inbox, and did the urgent things on my to do list it was almost 6pm and my tummy was doing the ‘leave work now and feed me’ grumbles. Predictably, last night also went at super speed and before I knew it it was 11pm.

I had thought of staying up and working on getting a blog post up before midnight because the thought of missing 1 day in the middle of the month was driving me mad, but after more than 30 seconds’ thought and a yawn that was so big it probably could have broken my jaw, I decided against it.

Today has also gone by in a blur, so I’m here after 6pm thinking ‘oh crap, what do I blog about today?’ – and I think that in itself is interesting. I blog to share my research, to draw attention to subjects that I care about, and to try to encourage people to engage with health services research. If I’m exhausted and pushed for time, it’s very unlikely that I’ll achieve any of those things; knowing when to take a break is important.

So, with that in mind, I am going to take tonight easy. I am going to read my book (I’m currently reading Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and really enjoying it so far), I might write a blog post later on, and I’m going to get an early night.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog post that I haven’t felt pressured or felt rushed to write. I’m planning on doing a ‘publication explainer’ post talking about embedded studies, what they are and why we need more of them.

Have a lovely evening 🙂

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On Talking: Some Thoughts on Mental Health

We are told to talk.
Talking will change things;
Talking will ‘end the stigma‘.

I have talked,
I am still talking,
Talking is not enough.


Today is World Mental Health Day; the day that social media feeds are filled with posts about people’s experience of poor mental health, photographs of anxiety meds and anti-depressants flood Instagram and Twitter in an effort to normalise these experiences and end the stigma.

This happens every year, and it’s not enough.

Talking is good, I agree with that, but we are talking. I talk regularly about my mental health – I’ve posted about what it was like to be diagnosed with depression whilst doing a PhD and that post has been read by hundreds of people, and I’m very open with friends and colleagues about the fact that sometimes my brain just doesn’t work how I want it to. I’ve emailed my supervisors and colleagues asking to reschedule meetings because I just couldn’t think properly that day, I’ve convinced my boyfriend to travel to a conference with me because I felt too anxious to go alone. I’ve been there, and I’ve been brutally open and honest about it. I’m not ashamed, I talk about the fact that without my ‘delicious antidepressants’ I might not have got out of bed that day.

I talked to my Doctor. I paid to talk to a counsellor, that didn’t work for me and it wasn’t sustainable (£40 for a 50 minute session). I waited 18 months until I could talk to a counsellor on the NHS, and she told me to think about losing weight, doing some exercise and eating more healthily (she hadn’t asked how much exercise I was doing or what my diet was like).

Talking is not enough.

Talking may work to ‘end the stigma’, but ending the stigma is not enough.
We need action.

Earlier this year I read an article in The Metro that summed up my thoughts pretty well:

Theresa May said last year, ‘We must get over the stigma’. Okay, lip service paid. But then, as part of the same speech, she says it’s ‘wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding’ and that no more money will be available to develop services. It feels like being told: ‘Sorry pal, we know your leg’s broken. We can’t put a cast on it right now (budget cuts), but just know that we’re working to reduce the stigma against users of crutches. Off you go.’”

On this World Mental Health Day, instead of posting on social media, don’t just like and retweet the posts you see about mental ill health, do something about it.

Ask for change:
Petition – Drastically improve funding for Mental Health Services within the UK
Petition – Fund facilities for people who feel suicidal so they always have somewhere to go
Contact your MP
Work to make your workplace more mentally healthy with this 7-step guide
If you are able to, donate to local organisations that are working to keep mental health services and support in place in your community Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Support in Mind Scotland.

If you are in the UK and you need access to mental health help and support services, please take a look here.

Non-Work Goals: 3 Month Check In

3 months ago I wrote a blog post about setting non-work related goals; something that my PhD supervisor suggested I do in order to combat the post-thesis hand in slump. In doesn’t feel like anywhere near 3 months has passed since I wrote that blog post, but it’s time for a check in.

Goal: Rediscover my love of reading

What I said I was going to do: “Over the next few months I’d like to get to the fiction books I bought from Powell’s City of Books (a selection of the pile shown on the right – I know, I buy too many books) when I was in Portland, and also some books that were released this year (Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy, and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon).”

What I’ve done: I think this has been the most successful of the goals that I set myself in July, so I’m starting on a high. Since then I’ve read 21 books! I’ve read all three of those that I listed, and a good chunk of the books that I bought in Portland too. Here’s a list of my favourites from those 21 books (if you’re on Goodreads then come be my friend on there too! My profile is here):

  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy (4*/5)
  • The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi, translated by Deborah Smith (4*/5)
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (5*/5)
  • Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (5*/5)
  • Stickle Island by Tim Orchard (4*/5)
  • The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein (4*/5) (I listened to this one on audiobook)
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (4*/5)
  • Life Honestly by The Pool (5*/5) (I listened to this one on audiobook)

Goal: Learn how to ride a bicycle

What I said I was going to do: “Now I’ve proven to myself that I can write a whole thesis and actually do a PhD (which I will always argue is more about tenacity than intelligence), I figure it’s time I give the bike thing another shot. Also, I really want a bike with a basket on the front that I can fill with picnic food and gin, and if I can’t ride it then that dream is never going to happen.”

What I’ve done: I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT! This was the goal that I thought I’d struggle with, but I can actually ride a bike!! My lovely boyfriend lent me his bike and then spent a few hours at the park near where we live holding the seat whilst I squealed “I’m going to fall, ahhh I’m going to fall!” Turns out, I did fall pretty spectacularly and then I had to be taught how to fall off a bike… yes, I can write a thesis worthy of a doctorate but when time’s going really fast I completely forger to put my feet on the floor.

Anyway, I’ve got actual real life video evidence for this one, and I don’t care how embarrassing it is because I am 26 years old and I can ride a bicycle!

Goal: Do something new and creative

What I said I was going to do: “A few months ago I bought the ‘How to be a Craftivist’ book by Sarah Corbett (right) after listening to a podcast that she did with Leena Norms, I haven’t yet read the book, but just listening to the podcast gave me tonnes of ideas about how I could use craftivist ideas to spread awareness of scientific concepts. All of those ideas are still in the back of my mind but I haven’t had time to do anything with them, now I do have some time and I think this could be a brilliant little passion project before Christmas. Not sure what the creative project will be just yet – maybe a zine? Not sure.. ”

What I’ve done: This is the goal that I’ve barely made a start on, but given that the other two have gone so well I think that’s ok. In August I bought Joe Biel’s book, How to Make a Zine (photograph to the left taken from Syndicated Zine Reviews), and I’ve had a very quick flick through it, but I haven’t done anything about said zine making challenge yet. I also thought about taking on board some of Sarah Corbett’s ideas on craftivism, but I haven’t got around to reading the How to be a Craftivist book yet. I did order a little craftivism kit from Sarah’s website though, so I think I’ll do that before I start making plans for my own craftivism.

I’m pretty pleased with the status of these goals just 3 months on – in particular I hadn’t realised that I had read so much, so that was a lovely surprise. How have you been doing with striking a work/life balance over the summer months? I feel like during summer it’s easier to strike that balance because it’s sunny and people are making plans to go adventuring after work. It’ll be interesting to see how I do with maintaining this new found balance into the autumn months when the nights get darker and it becomes all too easy to stay sitting in front of my laptop.

Wait, You’re Still Not a Dr?

This post is inspired by my friend and fellow science blogger, Soph Arthur from Soph Talks Science; earlier this week she wrote a blog post about handing in her PhD thesis (huge congrats, Soph!), and why she hasn’t made the jump to Dr Arthur yet. I thought her post was a brilliant way to explain the process of PhD examinations and awards – handing in the thesis is often seen as the final step before gaining your PhD, but there’s actually quite a lot more to go after that.

I handed my thesis in at the end of June, and had my viva at the end of August. The viva is an oral examination (usually face to face) that is designed to push you to your limits, to check that you did the work contained in your thesis, and to have some discussion around what you might have done differently and why. Mine had 2 examiners – 1 external (someone from outside my University), and 1 internal (someone that’s based at my University), and it last an hour and a half. At the end of those 90 minutes I was asked to leave the room, and 5/10 minutes later I was called back in to be told that I’d passed with minor corrections. That’s a pretty common result. At the University of Aberdeen ‘minor corrections’ means that you have 3 months to make the changes requested by the examiners, and only after that can you apply to graduate.

So it’s currently the beginning of October, and I’m STILL not a Dr.

I know. ANNOYING.

Post-viva, pre-corrections.

Anyway, that’s entirely my own fault. I completely avoided the thesis until last week; I just didn’t want to make the corrections, I didn’t want to read what I’d written for what felt like the millionth time, I just wanted to continue being super proud of myself for getting to this point and passing the viva. Unfortunately though, if I don’t make the corrections and get my ass into gear, then I will never be Dr Gardner.

After a very helpful catch up with my supervisors, I began tackling the corrections earlier this week, and I’m on track to finish them by the start of next week. I will finish them, and I will send my (hopefully final) thesis to my supervisors so they can have a quick look over it before I send it back to my examiners. Hopefully they will be happy with it, and I can then start getting excited for graduation – if I get things in order and turned around quickly I should be able to graduate on Friday 23rd November.

If I get my act together, that means I’ll be able to call myself Dr Gardner in about a month and a half. No pressure.

Hello, I’m Back

My PhD viva is over and done with (that’s still weird to think about), and I was feeling a bit weird about blogging – do I still blog about my research? Do I blog more on general science topics that make me rage because they can be reported so badly in the mainstream media? Or, do I just stop?

I guess the fact that I’m now blogging about what to do shows that I haven’t decided on the latter option (#meta), but I do want to change some things on the blog. I can no longer tell people about my PhD experience, but I can open this blog up a bit more into what the life of a researcher is like day to day. I’d also like to share my views on topics that are linked to the environment in which I do research (peer review, funding, diversity in the research community, potential problems in the way that we think about things etc etc), and also a little bit about what I do outside of work. I’m mentioned my side hustle a bit on this blog before, but I want to do more of that; explain why I decided to create Science On A Postcard, where I want to take it in the future, and why I think it’s important for me to have a designated side hustle to keep my mental health in check. On the subject of mental health, I want to talk more about that as well. A while ago I posted about having depression – expect more of that. A few weeks ago I was talking to friends and colleagues about my experiences of poor mental health, and how I wish that people would be more open about it; I figure I should lead by example and start talking about good days, down days, and everything in between.

So, yeah. Things are going to change around here, and I’m excited to keep sharing this weird little academic journey with you through this blog.

To kick things off, I’ve decided to do #Blogtober18. Blogtober essentially means that for every day during the month of October, I’ll be posting something new on this blog. Some days these will be wordy posts on complex topics, some will be continuations of existing series (Inspiring People, Clinical Trials Q&A, and Publication Explainers), other days there will be less formal posts to do with product development for Science On A Postcard, and I’ll throw in a few new styles of posts too.

Anyone else doing #Blogtober18?
Tagging a few people here that may want to join in, even if it’s just 1 post every day for a week!
Soph – https://sophtalksscience.com/
Jennie – https://muddledstudent.wordpress.com/
Sophie – https://sophiefquick.wordpress.com/
Kylie – https://happyacademic.wordpress.com/
Chelsea – https://chemicallyinquisitive.wordpress.com/
Katie – https://katiesphd.wordpress.com/
Jack – https://inquisitivetortoise.wordpress.com/
Gareth – https://friendlybacteria.wordpress.com/
Bella – https://bellastarling.wordpress.com/
Rebecca – https://biologybex.wordpress.com/