Tessa Coombes: “Why I Love My PhD”

Tessa Coombes is a PhD candidate in Social Policy at the University of Bristol.

What has been the highlight of your PhD so far?

The highlights for me have been the positive interest and support from people within the School for Policy Studies and from people I have spoken to outside the University. To know that others think what I am doing is interesting and worthwhile is always motivating. The fact that some of them even think it is exciting never ceases to amaze me.

When have you felt most proud of yourself during your PhD?

My proudest moment so far was undoubtedly that moment when I decided I wanted to do a PhD and subsequently received such phenomenal support from friends, family and lecturers to actually do it! Applying, getting accepted and starting out on my PhD journey made me feel incredibly proud.

When you feel at your wit’s end with your research, what would you say keeps you going?

The main thing that keeps me going when things don’t quite work out, or I’m having to spend hours on quite tedious tasks, is thinking about where I was a couple of years ago and where I am now. Back then I was working in a difficult and challenging environment, and not particularly enjoying life and rarely looked forward to going to work. Now I’m doing something I have chosen to do, something that I love and enjoy, for all the challenges it throws at me. I now enjoy the process of ‘going to work’, even Monday mornings are good. When at a low ebb I think about the end goal, finishing the PhD and what a sense of achievement that will bring. I would also say having a decent playlist to listen to is critical, as the right music will always lift your spirits and get you through the tough times.

Can you share something that makes you smile about your PhD?

My funniest moments tend to be when working at home and my cat decides it’s time to play or that she needs attention. She’s very good at sitting in front of the computer screen or on whatever I am trying to read, or just deciding to lie across my books and desk.

Tessa's cat keeps her looking on the lighter side of her reading.
Tessa’s cat ensures she takes regular breaks from her work…

 

“Why I Love My PhD” is an ongoing series inspired by The Guardian’s series of the same name, about how our Postgraduate Researchers stay enthused about their work and what keeps them going on the harder days. If you would like to share your story or contribute, please get in touch

Jonathan Godbehere: “Why I Love My PhD”

Jonathan Godbehere is a PhD candidate in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Bristol. He works on Electric Machine Design for ‘Sensorless’ control.

Tell us about a moment when you felt really proud of your research.

That would probably be my first conference paper submission, and then acceptance.  It marked the first time I saw my work peer-reviewed, and I felt like my work was actually ‘good’ to some extent. It helped that it was also a big, significant conference in Montreal. I got to travel and see somewhere out of the ordinary for free, which was a bonus! It was a great payoff for all the hours put into the paper (and the work itself) in the first place.

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming portion of your PhD work?
The first time I turn on my electric motor – and it hopefully works!

Is there a moment in your PhD experience that always brings a smile to your face?

Once, we had literally kilograms of scrap copper left over from a lab refurbishment. The whole research group rallied to help strip the outer plastic coatings off so we could recycle it. The proceeds went to our group’s Xmas dinner that year, because we managed to raise so much money!  Quite a nice group activity.

“Why I Love My PhD” is an ongoing series inspired by The Guardian’s series of the same name, about how our Postgraduate Researchers stay enthused about their work and what keeps them going on the harder days. If you would like to share your story or contribute, please get in touch

Blue Monday? Blue Any Day.

Blue Monday, popularly known as the “most depressing day of the year” and held on the third Monday of January, receives a fair amount of bashing in the press these days. Rightly so – after all, it was the pseudoscientific brainchild of a travel campaign for an airline that has since gone bust, all in the name of selling more holidays to people who are feeling vulnerable and in need of a pick-me-up.

Let’s be clear. That the world collectively feels more “depressed” on a single day of the year is clearly a misnomer. As many media folk have been quick to point out, this logical fallacy undermines our collective understanding of “depression” in its entirety. Clinical depression is a severe, chronic condition, one that doesn’t exactly take days off nor suffer from what most would call a “bad day”. People battle depression day in and day out, sometimes for months but often as long as decades. For many, it’s a lifelong illness that needs to be managed and maintained as many chronic physical illnesses need to be managed. Neuro-normative brains typically don’t become “depressed” because it’s cold outside, Christmas feels like a distant memory, and we’re all disheartened at the first high winter bill of the season with no festive break to look forward to –  save Valentine’s Day, which, please.

In this sense, Blue Monday’s dubious origins ought to be questioned and critically analysed.

In another sense, any day is an appropriate day to discuss issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing – whether you suffer from a specific, diagnosed condition or not. At the Bristol Doctoral College, we thought we’d take this opportunity to bring into discussion an issue that academia tends to brush under the carpet, but which has recently come knocking at institutional front doors with brute force due to its urgency: the chronic ill mental health of students in higher education, particularly in research students.

I’m not defending #bluemonday, and I’m especially not defending its source; I am reclaiming it in attempt to destigmatize issues around mental health and to encourage critical reflection on our own wellbeing. For many, every Monday is a Blue Monday; indeed, everyday is Blue Monday. Maybe our concern with what the day stands for is a microcosm of the larger problem:  maybe we ought to stop worrying about where ‘Blue Monday’ comes from, and use it as an opportunity to discuss how what most of us take for granted (our own wellbeing) will become a serious crisis for 1 in 4 people in the UK this year. Blue Monday, coming so close to the start of the year, can help us turn the lens on what is ‘blue’ in our own society, and what we can do this year to change it.

At the BDC, we’re taking this opportunity to remind our Postgraduate Researchers that we aren’t scared of talking about mental health. We’re not going to question you when you say you are having a blue day, a blue month, or a blue year. We’re going to point you to the services that are available to you. We’re going to champion the everyday actions that make a difference in everyone’s wellbeing. A part of that involves making sure our own wellbeing is healthy; another, much larger part, is about listening to your stories. Instead of discussing the cynicism of Blue Monday’s origins, we’re going to turn our view to the silver lining, and we invite you to join us.