Putting the pieces back, together

Two faces on jigsaw pieces

Our ‘5 Weeks of Wellbeing’ theme for the upcoming week is connect. We invited 1st year PhD student in English, Surangama Datta, to share her thoughts on what the theme of connect means to her and her research.

Research, as I see it, is like a package deal. “Pushing the boundaries in your field” comes with having to push internal boundaries. There are days when I feel like a super productive PGR ninja, smashing away at my keyboard with high levels of passion (and caffeine), clearing my email inbox like a pro, and totally nailing deadlines. And then there are days when all I have is a blank page. And lots and lots of funny cat videos.

After an entire vicious cycle of blank page, funny cats and anxiety, the white page continues to be just as daunting. The more I stare, the larger it seems to get. Meanwhile, “I am not good enough” starts playing on loop in my head.

Slowly but steadily, I shatter into pieces and begin to fall apart.

As a first year fresh-into-the-research-oven PhD student, I have days when I feel absolutely paralysed by the fear of this huge mountain called my PhD. I feel lost, confused and one hundred percent like an impostor.

I have always had the tendency to keep my struggles to myself and it is only recently, after a few moments of letting go and finding surprising results, that I have finally started to realise that sometimes, reaching out can be the antidote you convince yourself you don’t need, but which you positively do.

So here are three things I highly recommend for days days we can’t, just can’t:

1. Connecting to people you know
This could be friends, family, or anyone else that is close. Just call, meet, email or text. This is a safe space where you can be yourself and vent, vent vent away! These people are often the best qualified to remind you of your worth, how you need to take it easy, and know you well enough to understand your struggles. This is the most personalised help you will get. And sometimes, you will find that your friend, or sibling, or even your fellow researcher, is going through a similar crisis as you.

And you will get support, comfort, hacks and solidarity.

Like this one time I went to the gym in my accommodation to blow off some steam after a series of bad days, and struck up a conversation with a friend to kill time while waiting for my turn at the treadmill. Suffice it to say, that conversation lasted two hours, and I walked in with chaos, and came out with at least five different solutions and a very light heart.

2. Connecting with people who know

There is also an entire community of people out there who know. They know what you are going through, have perhaps gone through similar things themselves, and they know how to help. Sometimes, all you need is to reach out to them. These people may be your supervisors, your fellow PGRs, or perhaps your wellbeing advisors. The point is, they understand your experiences and are willing to listen, and provide specific advice.
Sometimes, I spend weeks feeling like there’s no progress. When I finally get around to meeting my supervisors, they tell me that what I am doing is good enough. And sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.

3. Getting to know new people

I have been surprised over and over again at how much connecting can help in contextualising problems, bringing comfort, and providing practical solutions, or the courage to find them. And sometimes, this involves connecting to new people. New people bring new ideas and experiences. They can bring out parts of you you didn’t know existed, and apart from adding fresh layers to your sense of self, they may even add to your project. This can be particularly refreshing especially when you feel stuck.

So I make it a point to socialise whenever I can. Besides, it can be extremely relaxing just to hang out with new people, have some good laughs, and put your problems aside for a while.

***

A nod in the right direction, a few compassionate exchanges and knowing that you don’t have to do this alone.

I walk into the PGR Hub after an awful writers’ block. I find an insanely difficult 1000-piece puzzle lying around. The pieces are tiny and the puzzle is giant. I fumble at it for a while, and am about to give up.

My fellow researchers join me. We circle around and scramble through the numerous, exhausting pieces. And slowly but steadily, we put the pieces back, together.


For this week’s theme, join us for any of the following activities designed to help you connect to your wider research community. All activities take place in the PGR Hub, 1st floor of Senate house, unless otherwise stated:

Pick up a free 5 Weeks of Wellbeing ‘Zine from the PGR Hub – collect a sticker for an activity each week, and you’ll be entered into a prize draw for a wellness hamper worth up to £100!

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