‘To get a PhD all you need to do is convince the examiners you have put in a shift’.
Today, I had my sixth-month review. As far as reviews go, it was quite a pleasant experience. The review is in place to provide moral support rather than an examination. I suspect these ‘reviews’ were demanded by the students as there is a lot of self-doubts that is stirred up during the early period.
I had never heard the term ‘imposter syndrome’ before I started my PhD; almost as I stepped through the door, I saw a poster advertising sessions that included ‘coping with imposter syndrome’, amongst over mental health-related courses. Since then, I have heard many of my fellow students talk about it; if you read blogs that are written by PhD students, you will likely see that many of them are writing about mental health issues. If you read the article on the Times Higher Education’s website, you may believe that a stroll through a university wouldn’t be too dissimilar to that of a psychiatric hospital. I have never had any periods of depression — I have been sad, I am not a robot – and I optimise my life for happiness. I often plan things so I will take on the least stress possible; I am not a perfectionist I am a completionist, which seems to me like a much more enjoyable position to be in. With the constant reminder that PhD students are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, I think it is doing me a disservice as It feels as if I am waiting for it to hit. I am on the event horizon and waiting to get sucked in.
A lot of the questions that I asked my reviewer were about completion rates for a PhD student; he quashed my fears with the notion that he had not seen anyone fail who had put the work in. The rare few people he had seen fail did not do any work, and it was apparent they were going to fail. I can now relax and not worry too much about failing. That is until I forget about this conversation, and the dark cloud of doubt descends.
I have been learning computer programming in my spare time for the last few years using the Python language. I enjoy coding, one of the great things about it is that you get instant feedback about how your program is working. Because of this immediate feedback, it feels as if you’re making progress quickly. As a treat, after my sixth-month review, I took Friday afternoon off and entirely devoted it to coding. I managed to make an image recognition program with the help of some pseudo-machine learning techniques. By the end of the evening, I had a program that could recognise numbers I had drawn in pant and tell me what they are. For those that do not code, this could seem trivial, but it was fascinating. I must spend less time reading blogs and more time programming; it has been the best hobby I have taken up, and trust me, there have been many hobbies I have taken up and subsequently given up. I intend on spending a good chunk of time this weekend getting to grips with machine learning.
Overall I feel pretty good about my PhD at this point, and I am going to get stuck into the paper I have been writing over the coming weeks. Not this weekend though as I have a spa day on Sunday!