It’s Monday. It’s dark, gloomy and raining. No-one expects you to be bright and perky on a day like today – but what if it’s not simply that “I don’t like Mondays” feeling?
Doing a postgraduate degree is always challenging, but sometimes life continues to pile on the pressure, until the cracks start to show.
The start of a new academic year can sometimes trigger that feeling that something is about to give, but there are things you can do to make it easier to cope with whatever your postgrad programme, and life, are throwing at you. Here are a few pointers to help keep you afloat.
- Should I stay or should I go? Help if you’re wondering whether to give up your postgrad programme.
- Managing a disability Support while on your programme, plus some inspiration for those students with a disability who want an academic career.
- Looking after yourself: Positive mental health and postgraduates Includes a great new blog from a postgrad with some practical (and entertaining) advice on dealing with mental health issues
1. Should I stay or should I go?
If you think you may have done the wrong thing, starting your postgrad degree, or can’t face the prospect of another year, don’t just sit and worry on your own. Talk to someone, preferably someone without a vested interest in keeping you on your postgrad programme.
Sometimes, the best person to talk to is your supervisor or programme leader, but if you’re not ready to do that yet, get some alternative perspectives on your concerns:
- The Careers Service – we can listen, help you think through the possible outcomes, whether you stay or go, and help you look at the alternatives, particularly in terms of career prospects. Contact us through our normal appointment service, just letting us know at the time of booking what you want to cover. Just be reassured – you won’t be the first person (or even the first person this week) who wants to talk about whether your course is right for you.
- The Students Union – their Advice Services include professional advisers and student-to-student support such as Nightline.
- Your School – seek out other sounding boards in your School. This may be one of your lecturers, an academic adviser (other than your supervisor if you’re doing a PhD), a student support officer (different systems and roles operate in different Schools) or simply other postgrads, post-docs or sympathetic academics or support staff you feel you could talk to.
If you don’t want to talk to someone (yet), have a look at our postgrad careers guide, “How to recover from setbacks” for some tips on finding support, plus links to our resources for doctoral researchers (by year) with some interesting information and resources on “Imposter Syndrome“, a seemingly common phenomenon in academic circles.
If things have gone beyond worrying about some of the practicalities surrounding your postgrad programme, and are starting to affect you more personally, our Counselling Service has a wide range of one-to-one, group and online resources to help – do use them, that’s what they’re there for.
2. Managing a disability
Our Disability Support Office has a strong track record in supporting students with a wide range of disabilities, whether visible or hidden.
If you are concerned about the impact any disability may have on your career plans, then you can book a careers appointment like anyone else – but if you mention that you wish to discuss a disability issue, we’ll make sure that you get to talk to the right person and that you have sufficient time and space to discuss your issues.
Will it damage your career prospects?
Having a disability doesn’t mean that you should write off your career ambitions. In some cases you might need to go about things a bit differently, but that can also be positive. For example, Dr Judy Williams, a senior lecturer in the Medical School has recently written an article in the Guardian about the challenges of being an academic with dyslexia, and how she’s made it work to her advantage. If you’ve been on one of her training courses, you probably didn’t realise that her amazing responsive and interactive training style is a way of really playing to her strengths and minimizing the impact of her disability.
3. Looking after yourself: Positive mental health and postgraduates
Our Counselling Service has lots of self-help resources and one-to-one support to help you keep your mental health on an even keel while you do a postgraduate degree.
However, it is also useful to hear from other postgrads, at the very least to realise that you’re not alone. I don’t have any data on how many postgraduates have to deal with mental health issues during their postgraduate degree, but I was struck by a point made recently in a new PhD blog, An Academic Follower of Fashion. Jessica MacDonald, a current Glasgow University PhD student who also experiences depression, came up with a great quote:
“Research has shown that mental illness, particularly mood disorders such as depression, may be more common in highly intelligent and creative people and those who would identify as perfectionists. Intelligent, creative perfectionists. Sounds like a lot of PhD students I know.”
It’s a very new blog, so I don’t know how regularly it will be updated, but she’s started out in tremendous form. If you’ve struggled to talk to your supervisor about mental health issues affecting your progress, I’d urge you to read her post, “Having ‘the chat’ with your supervisor“.