Making the hidden visible – with a little help from my friends

By Karina Judd

When I applied to do a PhD in October 2019, and was accepted to start in mid-2020, I had some ideas of what that experience would look like. None of those ideas involved two years of a global pandemic and months of working from home in isolation.

One of the curious features about succeeding in the PhD is the ‘hidden curriculum’. All the things that you are supposed to pick up via osmosis from those around you, especially those a little further along on their research path. What workshops are worth your time; how to balance work and writing and life and the rest; how to manage up and get the best value from your panel; who to meet and who to avoid at conferences (or the school seminar); what success looks like and how to cope when a day is not successful at all.

But in this time where events are cancelled, and just turning up to the office and seeing others who are working isn’t an option, how are you supposed to pick up these invisible tips? How do you find out what you don’t know that you don’t know about PhD life?

You gotta suck it up and make an effort to make some friends. Turn up to the Zoom calls. DM the person who just made an interesting comment in a webinar. Ask around if anyone in your vicinity is in a Zoom writing group. And show up. Participate in the chat. Let people into your life, and acknowledge when people let you into theirs.

As an already lonely journey, commencing a PhD in lockdown is hard. Continuing a PhD in lockdown is hard. I can’t fathom how it must be for those finishing their PhDs in lockdown, but I have no doubt that it’s hard.

Lighten the load by sharing it. Your panel is there to support, sure, but there’s nothing quite like receiving an email from one of your peers with a screenshot of something odd and the only text saying “help”… and then figuring out a solution together. The long nights and weekend writing sessions aren’t quite as bad when at the end of each Pomodoro sprint you have some other haggard writers there checking in and cheering you on.

We all know the struggles of well-meaning friends and family who have the best intentions, but just don’t get it. Fellow HDRs do. We’re in it together. There are very few problems that someone doesn’t have some scrap of experience in, or can introduce you to someone else who does. It’s these random little connections – from all corners of the university and beyond – that are forming my blossoming network that is carrying me through this almost-post-pandemic, and I have no doubt that a little help from friends will get you through whatever you’re facing too.

Is it cheesy? Heck yeah. I stand by it though. Let me know in the comments, what is the best HDR secret you gleaned form a peer that you don’t think you would have learned otherwise?

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