The PhD voice

I’m running a marathon, not a sprint

Hey all, this week I really thought about posting nothing PhD or academic related. I have been super busy and I have attended one PhD defense and one MSc defense already (one more MSc defense on Friday too). I feel always so happy to see these moments and people doing so well and having others see their academic brilliance when themselves doubt it at times. Watching others succeed is always a pleasure, but I felt this week with so many events made me think I hit some bumps in my road and I’m going slower than usual. So I’ll get personal about my current state of mind.

This month, and specially this week, had me slowing down my work pace A LOT. I started stressing out that, after a month of August where I produced a lot of results and even a conference abstract, I found myself in a place where an inevitable extension to my project had to come sooner than expected.

And by having to learn a lot, it’s like when you’re feeding yourself for your workout: you have to eat little by little, nourishing things, and wait until you digest it so that you don’t feel bad when you are working out.

So this month has been a month of sloooooowly eating a.k.a. learning how to do something that will take my project to the next level. Taking MOOCs on the subject, making simple examples, and then applying to my own project. Something that programmers should know well. So far so good, I was feeling pumped up when the first results came in, but then the bitter truth came…

There’s no way I can’t go on without changing the current structure of my work!

Oh my! I don’t want to go even slower! It’s like when you’re driving while on a rush and you get on the wrong turn. I know this happens a lot with PhD and academic work in general, but this frustrated me. After such a month of “eating” for my intelect and academic soul, I was fueled and wanted to run the 100m and beat my own personal record like Usain Bolt would. So I feel like I had the equivalent to a cramp in the very first moments. Like a good athlete would, now it’s time to stretch a lot and don’t go running too fast. Recover and train until you can sprint again. Or change to run at a slower pace but a longer distance.

When we’re running on a sprint, we can get to the destination faster, but it doesn’t mean we get there better. By running so fast, you miss the beautiful surroundings and you give it your all because it all goes by so fast. Since this is also a travel blog, this also goes in the contrast between hop on/hop off style of seeing a city vs slow travel. In contrast, running a marathon for 4 hours or more makes a lot of time for thinking and putting step by step to resist the pain until the end. The farthest distance I’ve ever ran was a 10K on a race and sure I enjoyed a lot while resisting my urge to stop and walk. And shouldn’t my PhD be more like a long distance race? I even had a colleague that ran her first marathon during her PhD work and said the PhD is much harder than the marathon. So why not change perspective?

Right now, I want to run slower but steadily. Can I?

So, if I run the marathon instead of the 100m, as I said, I’ll think a lot. And I’m already feeling this. I’ve been questioning my approach to work and my methods. Well, I was writing and all my previous article readings and notes were getting out of hand and I couldn’t find what I wanted to write about. So, logical thing to do? Change the storage system and organization completely! I’ll write about this in the next week. Yeah I know, I have better things to do. But I know this will pay me off in the long term. So, like in a marathon, you have to be careful with your steps so that the energy you spent in the beginning will not make you even more drained in the end.

This slower pace also made me think sometimes I get too much in my comfort zone academically and personally. I’m one for learning new things, but I see that other areas of my PhD need to be taken care off more regularly so that I can reach my ultimate goals instead of getting so caught up in immediate work. So, I’ll commit myself to slow down for a bit sometimes for feeding myself with new knowledge, new ideas, get inspired by people running alongside me, so that my project will rock in the way I want it to!

Hope you enjoyed this post about changing to a long distance run during your PhD! For me the biggest takeaway is:

It’s OK to slow down for a bit to get to the end in better shape!

Also, don’t forget your workouts! Ironically, this post is about running but I haven’t been running much, once a week but I do other workouts. Today a Yoga video put me in a great mood and inspired me for this post. 😉 Might come later a post about proper working out soon and how it inspires me to be a better professional.

Is your PhD a marathon or a sprint? Have you been faced with going a bit slower than usual too in your research for a better final purpose?

Cátia

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