How Stepping Away From My PhD Helped My Research

Hive Scholar Erin is a Druid and lover of nature, and gives an insight into how these helped her with her research.

Welcome to a new year, and to new researchers. It might feel strange to see a post about stepping away from your PhD when you may just be beginning and while this is aimed primarily at existing PhD researchers, it is also relevant to new PhDers and will help with planning.

Many of us follow particular working methods – Pomodoro, using plants in the Forest app, or even just working to a particular album and taking a break when it ends. The thing is, we all know the importance of regular breaks when studying or working and that getting up from our desks for even 10 minutes can help improve concentration, productivity and our mental health.

But what about actual breaks? Break from the PhD entirely. Stepping away and not working. For days or weeks. If, like me, the thought of doing that fills you with dread at the amount of work you’d come back to, then read on and I’ll explain why taking a definitive break from the PhD process will actually help it run more smoothly.

If you are new to the PhD and are coming from a “normal” academic year – with semesters and a summer break, you may be feeling daunted at the prospect of working on a project for several years. Looking around you, you will see other PhDers who work hard and seemingly never stop. You may be thinking “well, that’s my life over for the next x number of years” and may be preparing to hermit yourself away until you finish your thesis.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

At the end of June, it was the Summer Solstice. As a Druid, the Solstices and Equinoxes are important markers of the year and are always something to celebrate. They are the perfect occasions to stop, breathe and take stock. I’m a relatively newbie PhDer, starting in October 2020, so have spent a lot of this time finding my feet and my rhythm. I work hard, even though I am doing my PhD part time, and spend many hours a week working and researching.

At the Solstice, I stepped away from my PhD and didn’t look at it for a week. I also took myself away physically from my home (to Avebury to hang out with other Druids) and out of the environment which sings “work, work, work” to me daily.

While I was there, I thought about my research, sure, but I pocketed those thoughts and ideas away in the PhD corner of my brain and allowed myself to exist and Erin the Druid and Human. I found freedom in being around people who have similar beliefs to me and who were converging on this place to celebrate the Summer and the earth and all the beauty around us.

I was refreshed.

Photo by Flash Dantz from Pexels

Upon my return home, I jotted down notes of the things I thought of – including some amazing ideas about the direction of my research which were inspired by the sound of a stream and birds – and took a day to allow myself to get back into PhD mode.

Since then, my productivity has not only increased, but I have really cemented the direction of my research and my writing is better.

I have now decided that I will do this (an escape from my PhD) at least once a year and encourage everyone else to do the same.

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