PhD #pandemicposts- Stuck in a rut

I have been inspired by The Thesis Whisperer to start writing my own #pandemicposts. I am currently in lockdown in the UK and although I still have ups and down, the short of it is that I am grateful to be at the analysis and writing up stage of my PhD. I have something to channel my energy into. I’m going to try my best not to dig into COVID-19 in these blog posts because I want to escape from that for awhile and there is plenty of other content online which addresses that.

May was a great month for me. I was in a flow with my thesis writing and felt in control of my projected timeline but somehow May merged into June, I fell out of my flow, became unmotivated and apathetic. It took me a few weeks of beating myself up and not being able to put my finger on why I was feeling so down to eventually come to the conclusion that I was stuck in a rut.

What led to the rut?

The biggest factor was a change to my routine. In June, I started a new part-time job as a research assistant as well as started co-hosting a weekly webinar series (shameless plug here if you’re interested in attending). I didn’t account for the increased workload in my week and readjust my expectations accordingly so I was unable to achieve my daily goals each day which set me off on a vicious cycle of feeling defeated, out of control and unmotivated. With this added workload, I was not spending my energy on the most important thing. I told myself that I was stressed so I should have a relaxing morning routine. I stopped writing my thesis early in the morning and replaced it with an array of avoidant tasks labelled as ‘self-care’ which was ironic because this only added to my stress-levels.

But the thing that really got me, was the level of guilt and shame that I felt. I knew that other people were busier, more stressed and have more serious concerns than me. This made me angry at myself; why can’t I just suck it up and get on with it?! I was comparing myself to others in all of the unhealthy ways and I got myself all worked up because it is suddenly the end of June, the writing is slower than I anticipated and I have not met my monthly writing goals. The other frustration is that, if I take the deadline pressure off of myself, I can honestly say I am genuinely enjoying the writing process and the other work that I am doing.

Getting out of the rut

The only way I can see myself getting out of a rut is by acknowledging that I am in one. I sent a check in email to my supervisor acknowledging that I had been a bit low the past few weeks. I talked about it to a PhD friend on the phone and I journalled about it. I had an epiphany; I was in a shame shit storm! The Brené Brown fans here will understand this reference. If you don’t know about her and her work- look her up. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing she is and the influence she has had on me.

Once you have acknowledged that you’re in a rut, it’s time to hit the reset button. This could mean different things to different people but for me, this involves stepping away from work and getting out in nature. On Friday, we went for a morning swim in the sea and on Saturday, a hike in the Pentlands. The sense of clarity and calm that I get from trudging up a hill in the rain never ceases to amaze me.

Soggy sarnies in the rain somewhere in The Pentlands

With a clearer head after my reset, then next step was to restructure my routine. I won’t harp on about the importance of routine because you can find that info all over the internet right now. I spend today (Sunday) getting caught up on life admin and planning my goals for the week ahead. Going forward, early mornings are for writing then during my ‘9-5’; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are for misc. tasks (mostly PhD-related work), Thursday is for RA work and Friday is for (more) writing. I am one of those people who loves a Monday morning, an entire week of jobs to be done excites me! Looking back, I haven’t felt that in the past few weeks because I have spend them chasing my tail but as I write this one a Sunday night, that familiar feeling is back.

Learning from the rut

This PhD is teaching me so much more than my research field and how to write a thesis. I am learning how to grow emotionally, how to handle whatever life throws at me and actively work through difficult times. PhDs are undoubtedly a stressful experience but to do one is such a privilege. I want to enjoy this process as much as possible. So until the next bump in the road, I best get back to writing up in my little box room!

My working from home box room.

PhD #pandemicposts- Breaking Through Barriers to Writing

I have been inspired by The Thesis Whisperer to start writing my own #pandemicposts. I am currently in lockdown in the UK and although I still have ups and down, the short of it is that I am grateful to be at the analysis and writing up stage of my PhD. I have something to channel my energy into. I’m going to try my best not to dig into COVID-19 in these blog posts because I want to escape from that for awhile and there is plenty of other content online which addresses that.

This has been a rather odd week. At the end of last week I made a breakthrough with my findings. I was getting myself in a tizzy, struggling to separate what my data said from what I wanted it to say based on the literature I had been reading. So I stripped it back, restructured my basic codes into new themes and although the findings aren’t really any different from before, I now have more confidence in them, more confidence in the difference between what my participants said and what the literature says.

So, armed with my newfound clarity around my findings, a friend advised me to ban myself from reading literature and to just write a summary of what my findings said. It was an absurdly daunting task! My thought process quickly escalated to; what if everything I “find” in my PhD is nonsense? What if, in writing my findings, I realise that I have no idea how to do research, how to analyse data and how to present it? Writing the essence of your PhD findings into a one page summary is like staring down the barrel of a gun. This is what I have devoted my life to over the past three years. What if it is awful?? But then I thought, calm down, Katie. You’re being dramatic. So what if it is?? I read an article about Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Draft” approach to writing (essentially, she argues that all writers need to let go of perfectionism, give themselves permission to write a terrible first draft which might eventually lead to some clarity in a second draft and even brilliance in a third). So I did it, I sat down and wrote a summary of my findings and (spoiler alert) it was surprisingly un-shitty!

So with last week’s breakthrough under my belt, I was motivated and even excited to spend this week fleshing out my findings. Fast forward to today (Friday) and I am sitting here unmotivated and deflated that I only reached half of my 5000 word count goal. Why did 5000 words ‘fleshing out my findings’ seem so achievable on Monday? As the week progressed, I gave priority to other tasks, writing up my findings got pushed to later in the day and then I would hit my afternoon slump which often, there is no coming back from. I think I have fallen into the trap of setting unstructured goals… What does ‘flesh out my findings’ even mean?! A few weeks ago, I attended an online workshop with the wonderful Hugh Kearns. One of the many great nuggets of advice he gave was that action leads to motivation which leads to further action NOT simply motivation leads to action. As I reflect on my week, I think I was waiting for the “motivation fairy” to strike. So last week, I was held back by my fear of failure and having gotten over that, I immediately faced the next bump in the road; lack of motivation. I don’t really think there is a solution to this. I think I just have to break down my goals so the writing task is less daunting. As Anne Lamott puts it, take it bird by bird. I have to accept that some days will be brilliant, whilst others will be a struggle. I just need to keep showing up. I think I could also benefit from keeping a more structured “done” list alongside my to do list…

I’m getting through this PhD, bird by bird, one shitty first draft after another until it resembles a complete thesis. On that note, I think I have managed to stir up some motivation to write so I’m off to seem if I can profit from it! I will leave you with the wise words of Jane Austen:

“I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am.”


PhD #pandemicposts- The Power of Vulnerability?

I have been inspired by The Thesis Whisperer to start writing my own #pandemicposts. I am currently in lockdown in the UK and although I still have ups and down, the short of it is that I am grateful to be at the analysis and writing up stage of my PhD. I have something to channel my energy into. I’m going to try my best not to dig into COVID-19 in these blog posts because I want to escape from that for awhile and there is plenty of other content online which addresses that.

Over the past few weeks, I have been listening to Brene Brown’s podcast (highly recommend) She is a self-proclaimed emotions researcher and her interviews have got me reflecting on emotions. I have realized how poorly equipped most people are in identifying our emotions and defining them. Consider a basic emotion like frustration. We can all identify a time where we have felt that, right? Now, take a minute to DEFINE frustration.

If there’s someone in the same household as you or you’re on the phone to a friend, ask them. I’ll wait…

Right, what did you come up with? Go Google the definition and see how your attempt compares. Did you nail it? Were you roughly in the right ball park? Or were you wildly off? Either way, it’s an interesting experiment! It just goes to show how much we have to learn in terms of being aware of our emotions…

The topic that shot Brene Brown into stardom was her TED talk entitled the Power of Vulnerability. It is the most watched TED talk EVER. If you haven’t seen it, pause here and go watch it. I’ll wait (Again. It’s not like we have  a whole lot else to be doing with our time). I

Side note- I absolutely adore Brene Brown but I find it odd that as a researcher, she has very little peer-reviewed published work. Is it somewhere out there that I can’t seem to access??? Or are her books her only published work? I’m not questioning the integrity of her work, I just find it interesting that she has managed a career as an academic without publishing peer-reviewed journals! Can anyone shed some light on this?? Anyway, I digress…

On 16th March 2020 the UK Government published guidance on social distancing for vulnerable people (since changed to guidance for everyone in the UK) and NHS Digital launched the vulnerable patients list (since changed to shielded patient list). Tjis got me thinking; what do they mean by vulnerable? Vulnerable to what?

Vulnerability. I think it’s a term that is often used incorrectly. Do you consider yourself vulnerable? Is it a strength or a weakness? Is a person with dementia more vulnerable than a young healthy 20 year old? What makes them more vulnerable? I am asking all of these questions because I want you to use them to really dig deep and explore how you perceive vulnerability. Now that you have done that, listen to my argument in the next paragraph with an open mind.

A quick Google search churns out the definition of vulnerability as the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of harm. With this in mind, I think vulnerability is a universal concept. By virtue of being human, we are all vulnerable. It does not change, we all have it. No individual is more vulnerable than another. What changes is its counterpart; resilience. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. This is the concept that differs in individuals. But nobody is born with resilience. Unlike vulnerability (which is something we all innately have), resilience is a social product. So perhaps certain individuals are not more vulnerable than others, but they do lack resilience and this is the important factor. Perhaps the question is not what makes someone more vulnerable than another (because we are all vulnerable) but what makes one more resilient than another? Our resilience is defined by our skills and strategies, which can be learned. So in supporting people living with dementia to be independent for example, involves mechanisms for building resilience… Yes, there is power in ‘being vulnerable’ but in fact, we are all vulnerable. We need to shift our view on vulnerability from something than can be managed to something that just is. Or indeed from something that is a weakness to something that is a strength.


PhD #pandemicposts – Lockdown Ramblings and Trying Something New

Disclaimer: I have been inspired by The Thesis Whisperer to start writing my own #pandemicposts. I am in week 5 of lockdown in the UK and although I still have ups and down, the short of it is that I am grateful to be at the analysis and writing up stage of my PhD. I have something to channel my energy into. I’m going to try my best not to mention COVID-19 in these blog posts because I want to escape from that for awhile and there is plenty of other content online which addresses that.

I feel guilty because this blog hasn’t been as much of a priority for me during my PhD as I originally envisioned it to be. Yes, this blog is about sharing my PhD experiences with the world with the hope that some of my tips and experiences will help others but ultimately, I wanted to write this for myself. But I have been put off by the air of perfectionism that surround online content these days. Right now, I have 32 blogs sitting in my drafts folder. 32!!!??? Admittedly, some are quickly jotted down ideas, some are brief paragraphs but some have been fully written then I have just decided not to post them. Why?! I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s the imposter syndrome. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not so comfortable with self-promotion. I don’t want to buy into the online world of creating a career out of my ‘brand’. I tried to start an Instagram and Facebook page to accompany this blog but they just felt stressful and false so I let the fizzle out. Even though I am a fan of Twitter for networking, I’m currently on a hiatus from it because the COVID-19 news is either distracting me from my work or seeing people share how productive they are being during lockdown is sending me into a shame spiral for not being the same. However, during these tumultuous times, I have noticed that a number of people are reviving their blogs. There is something grounding about writing reflectively. A blog allows you to do that more so that any other online platform. So I’m going to try something new with this platform; I’m going to use it as a research diary, if you will. I’m just going to word vomit how I feel, what’s on my mind (mostly pertaining to my my PhD) and see how that goes.

So I’m going to try to write weekly during lockdown. If it works, I might continue it. I’m going to reflect on my week. It won’t be particularly aesthetic, it will be short and sweet and it might not even make sense (think stream of consciousness style writing) but I am hoping it will be cathartic for me and reassuring for people in positions similar to me. I will write the style of content that I want to read right now. I look to academic blogs such as patter by Pat Thomson, The Thesis Whisperer and vlogs by the enigmatic Tara Brabazon and I find them so inspiring! They lift me up and motivate me. They are not presented in the most scandi-chic effortless aesthetic that is saturating other platforms (No hate- aesthetic is important but I find it isn’t always authentic). So that’s my food for thought on this Friday afternoon!

My 2020 Intentions and Reflecting on Previous New Year Goals

Happy (very belated) New Decade! After a wonderful Christmas week at home in Ireland, it’s been a rocky start to 2020. I’ve been sick with every minor ailment under the sun so hopefully that’s me met my quota for the decade! Besides that, I am well and truly settled back into work. I must admit, it is nice to be back in a structured routine. Speaking of consistency, updating this blog regularly has not been my strong suit since I started it in 2017 however, I have managed to record and share my goals at the beginning of every new year since then so although I’m late to the party, I wanted to reflect back on previous goals and set some intentions for 2020.

I must admit, I feel conflicted about New Year Resolutions. I understand that goal setting can help us to prioritise and visualise the year ahead however, I think we are at risk of setting ourselves up for failure when we have unrealistic goals or becoming consumed by our resolutions. One way I have found around this is setting specific goals in some aspects of my life but setting ‘intentions’ and trying to develop habits in others. I think this allows me to be kinder to myself in a world where we are constantly online and striving to be the most productive, efficient, fit, social, happy, kind, healthy and successful versions of ourselves.

Blog and social media

My goal for this blog in 2020 is to post once a month. I’m not going to set a strict structure or schedule because my intention is not to grow a following or to create a ‘brand’. I just like to share my experiences. I find it cathartic to write freely about something on my mind in the moment and hopefully it will be useful to some people out there. Last year, I started an Instagram @katiesphd as I saw a need for more people to share their experience of doing a social science PhD on that platform however, I gave up on it pretty quickly. Although I still want to see that type of content, to put it bluntly, I find social media draining and false. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick it back up in the future but for now, it’s not for me…


In previous years, I have set goals to read more widely and frequently, publish my literature review and complete my data collection and transcription. In the past year I have definitely expanded my reading, I am 90% there with my transcriptions but I haven’t managed to publish yet. My imposter syndrome keeps getting in the way of that one…

In 2020 I want to go on a writing retreat, submit a paper for publication and the ultimate goal of 2020 is to submit the first full-draft of my PhD thesis!!! The process of external examination and corrections can take up to 6 months so I’m hoping to officially graduate in summer 2021. My funding will run out the end of November regardless so I will have to juggle the final stages with other work. This year I also have to figure out what on earth I’m going to do post-PhD but we’ll take that one in baby steps….


Striving for a good work/life balance is a goal that will never be ‘achieved’ however it’s an intention that I will continue to work on. I’m pleased to report that I’m a fully-fledged book nerd now. I absolutely swallow up books for leisure and it provides an escape from the computer screen, internet and the vacuum that is social media (don’t get me wrong though, I’m still an avid Netflixer).

This year, I want to keep up CrossFit and incorporate more yoga in my routine. Admittedly, I have written down more specific things that I want to achieve in the gym in terms of numbers and skills but ultimately, I would be happy if I maintained a regular routine of going to classes for the benefit of my body and mind throughout my PhD.

I have wanted to explore meditation (specifically mindfulness) over the past few years but for some reason, this goal always gets overlooked. This year, I’m going to change that. I’ve been reading Waking Up by Sam Harris and have signed up to an 8 week mindfulness course with the University Chaplaincy. Watch this space for an update on my experience….

So there you have it, folks! A sneak peak into my intentions for the year ahead. Now that I’ve shared them, hopefully that holds me more accountable and I can actually make some progress. I can’t believe I started this blog when I first started my PhD and now I’m staring down the barrel of the final slog. Do you have any goals or intentions for 2020? Any tips for keeping your sanity during the final year of a PhD or is that a battle that is lost before it has begun?! Let me know!

So your Supervisor is Moving…

In my last blog post, I promised I would share my experience of having my lead supervisor change institution during my PhD. When I found myself in this predicament back in August, I turned to trusty Google for guidance and was surprised by that lack of information. Surely, this has happened to more than a handful of PhD students in the world?! I realise that this experience is different for everyone and the outcome is dependent on a number of factors such as your funding requirements or regulations at your specific institution but maybe my experience might shine some light on the issue, because I am confident that it happens to more PhD students than we realise. Continue reading “So your Supervisor is Moving…”

Update: Where have I been and what to expect?

Hey Strangers. Remember me? I’ve been feeling extremely guilty the past few months that I haven’t updated my blog… I’ve half written several posts but lost both my motivation and inspiration to write outside of my PhD. As with most of my blog posts, this one was inspired by my friend, mentor and overall superstar; Heidi Gardner. Her latest post laid out what she’s been up to and set boundaries so she could get through her monsterous to-do list over the next few months. Her side hustle, Science on a Postcard has absolutely taken off and she was featured on the BBC! Check out the feature here.

So what have I been up to?

Well, the PhD journey has been an immersive one over the past few months, with data collection in full swing. I’ve been travelling all over Scotland for my focus groups and walking interviews, even spending a few days in Lewis and Harris for fieldwork! I have my final two focus groups this week and then a couple of interviews over the coming weeks. Come September, I can change gears and focus on the analysis phase.

Look at the colour of the water!

Beaches on the Isle of Harris

Aside from data collection, I passed my second year review board today (woohoo!) and have been working part-time on a research project.

I have also been working on some applications. I applied for a three month internship with the Scottish Government internship (nothing back yet so fingers crossed!), I applied to tutor on a few undergraduate courses next year (spoiler- I was successful!) and finally, I’m in the midst of applying for a course to get my Associate Fellowship membership with the Higher Education Academy.

Summer is conference time in the academic world so I traveled to London in May to present at the Alzheimer’s Society Annual Conference and in July, I presented at the International Missing Adults and Children conference in Liverpool where we managed to squeeze in a meeting with the International Consortium for Dementia and Wayfinding (website coming soon).

ICDW meeting in Liverpool



On top of all of that, I recently learned that my lead supervisor is moving to a different university so we’ve been trying to figure out what my options are. This is a complicated thing to discuss but when we get everything finalised, I will definitely write a blog post on the experience because I’m sure this is a situation that many PhD students have found themselves in and there isn’t a lot of discussion or advice out there on it!

Most importantly, I’ve been busy outside of the PhD too! In May I hosted my friend’s Hen Party weekend then travelled to the most beautiful wedding in Norway in June! 


I even did my first sprint triathlon in July!

After feeling down and overwhelmed the past few months, I have made a conscious decision to rid myself of the lingering guilt of not updating this blog. I had big plans for this platform and sadly, I haven’t met them but for right now, meeting the milestone of my PhD is the priority and this is one of the commitments that I have to cut in order to achieve that. My intention isn’t to boast about how busy I’ve been. I know that I set out to write this blog for myself but I guess I needed to write this to update anyone who has been wondering where I am and to allow myself to let go of the guilt. I’m not saying this is the end of the blog, If inspiration hits, this blog is my outlet! I’m just saying that I’m not going to pressure myself…

Taking time away from your PhD

Hello world! Sorry for the radio silence. Two weeks ago, I hosted an the Edinburgh Symposium for the International Symposium on Dementia and Wayfinding (blog post on my experience here) and last week, I took some much needed time away from my PhD. We went to Oban and the surrounding islands for a few days and man, it felt good to be by the sea and to reconnect with nature! Looking back, I haven’t taken a proper break since Christmas Continue reading “Taking time away from your PhD”

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