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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Self-care and compassion

Knowing your limits, knowing what you need, knowing how to keep yourself well… These are life lessons and won’t just benefit your ability to stay positive and productive during your research degree; they are things we need to keep on working out, across all aspects of our lives. We shouldn’t wait until we reach crisis point before we start thinking about how to take care of ourselves

What do you need?

It’s time to check in with yourself. How are your current boundaries working out for you? Are there things you know impact your wellbeing, both positively and negatively, in relation to your research degree that you could take some action on?

Grab a piece of paper and make two columns. In the first, list the things you know you need to be productive, stay sane and feel in control. In the second, jot down some ideas for how those needs could be met. Here are some ideas to get you started:












You can download a text version of this table.

Now it’s your turn: What can you do to take care of yourself and prioritise your own wellbeing when you are working?

When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed our internal resources can run low. When our resources are running low, we have reduced capacity to make good choices. You know when you are too tired to face even getting yourself ready for bed? Or when you are so hungry you can’t decide what to eat? We need to be fuelled and rested in order to make good decisions, including regarding how to take best care of ourselves.

Activity: What’s in your first aid kit?

If your resources are running low, it helps to have a ready-prepared list of ideas and suggestions for what you could do to feel better. Self-care isn’t all about spa days and face masks (though some of us wouldn’t say no to that); it’s about the small things we can do to make sure we feel nourished.

So grab a piece of paper and draw a box that represents your “wellbeing first aid kit”. This is going to hold the “medicines” that you know make you feel better when you feel low or frazzled or anxious. Here’s an example below, but when you do your own, be specific: don’t just write ‘favourite film’, think about what films really lift your spirits and list them (and where to access them, e.g. DVD, Netflix, etc.). Remember: make this resources as easy to use as possible, so when you open your First Aid Kit, you have a selection of tonics to soothe the soul ready and waiting to be chosen.

You may also be interested in this episode of the podcast R, D and the In-betweens where Researcher Development Manager Kelly Preece talks to Jayne Hardy from The Blurt Foundation about wellbeing and self-care in HE.

Well-known research by the New Economics Foundation suggests that there are five ways to wellbeing:

You can also download a text version of this infographic.

It is so important to make the time to do all of these things, outside your research. We therefore asked postgraduate research students (past and present) to share some examples of their social and creative outlets, outside academia.

You can download an alt-text version of this slideshow.

Many research students will tell you that, often, the culprit for a crisis in confidence is comparing themselves to others. It is so important to remember:

  • Your research project is unique and will move at its own pace.
  • No-one else has the same stuff going on as you. Everyone’s lives are different and our different lives outside our research affect us in different ways.
  • There isn’t a right way to do things: you do you; everyone else is taken.
  • The rhythm of research peaks and flows in unexpected ways; somethings just take longer than others.
  • The person who you are comparing yourself to may well be comparing themself to YOU and think you are the one who has it all together!

If you want to think about this challenge more, you could read this article in Psychology Today on The Perils of Comparing Ourselves to Others.

This section will look at what imposter syndrome is and how you can challenge it. You can listen to it as a podcast below, or download the transcript to read here.

You can also download a text version of this infographic.

The Thesis Whisperer has an interesting take on Imposter Syndrome in here blog post ‘Imposter Syndrome is Not Real, But I call Mine ‘Beryl’

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