Finding a buddy is one of the most important things to do during your PhD
We are Elaine and Rachel and we are PhDBuds. Pals, comrades, mates – call it what you will. But we quite like PhDBuds. Quite frankly, we are the Thelma & Louise of the PhD world. In this post, we share our story and set out the benefits of having a buddy during your PhD.
Someone once asked me to describe my ideal working space. I carefully outlined the shape and size of the room, the beautiful wooden bookcase along one wall, the scatter cushions and other soft furnishings, and the small table with a pot of herbal tea gently steaming in the corner. My questioner smiled. “Is this room going to have a door?” she asked. “Do I have to have one?” came my reply.
I suppose the point of sharing this anecdote is to illustrate that I am not someone who needs to be surrounded by people. Given the option, I’m perfectly happy getting along with things by myself. So last year when I applied to be on a professional doctorate programme, I wasn’t troubled when family and friends talked of long hours ‘doing the PhD’ by myself. After all, wasn’t that what doctoral study was all about? Wasn’t I supposed to be the lone researcher on a journey of discovery, dedicated to making my original contribution?
Well, then I met Rachel. And I found myself talking to her about the PhD. And she talked back. And then I talked some more. And so did she. And from that point on, we’ve been each other’s ‘go-to’ person for all things PhD. I find it fascinating that we are at completely different points in our careers, and we have completely different life goals. In fact, we are on completely different PhD programmes. And Rachel is well into her PhD, whilst I’m just at the proposal stage. But we both face the same challenges and frustrations. And we both want someone to yell ‘yay!’ really loudly in our face when we’re excited about something. Quite a lot of what we talk about isn’t related to the content of our PhDs at all. We swap writing and time management techniques. We share war stories about publishing.
And then there’s the little things that really count. Like the other day when I couldn’t find a reference and, as if by magic, Rachel swooshed into my office, pen drive in hand with a massive list of references a mere 10 minutes after my slightly pathetic email. She works ludicrously hard and is the first person to put her hand up when people need help. I felt completely privileged that she took the time out of her day, at the drop of a hat, to walk over to my office to help me. Family and friends are awesome and kind, and politely listen when you’re harking on about a journal’s impact factor. But they can’t do things like that.
I love my PhD. I tell myself this every day. Some days this is very true and I say it with a grin, because I do love what I do. Some days I say it to remind myself that it is true. These are the hard days which everyone faces during their doctorate, regardless of what course you are on. When I found out I had been chosen for my PhD, my first thoughts were of graduation, changing my passport to say ‘Dr Rachel Dunn,’ and flying all over the world to attend conferences. These things will happen eventually, but I don’t think I really thought about the journey it would take me on to get there.
The first year into my PhD has been successful and a learning curve. I have had papers accepted, presented at many conferences, and had some invaluable teaching experience. I have also had people really hate my papers, grant rejections, and disagreements with my chosen methodology. And this is hard. When you love something so much and it occupies your every free thought, you want to protect it and yourself.
This was when I realised that I can’t go through this alone and Elaine became a big part of my support group. Even though I am further on in my PhD, Elaine has been publishing for years, is an amazing teacher and, quite frankly, works her ass off! I don’t think I have ever been so inspired and influenced by someone who is always willing to listen to my woes. Elaine gives me so much guidance on every aspect of my life. It isn’t just about which journals I should publish in, how I should approach certain situations, and what else I can be doing to raise my research profile. She listens to me when I feel like I’m drowning with work, helping me to prioritise what is important. She helps me with my personal life, which can often feel like a disaster during the PhD journey! Elaine is just there for me and I feel very lucky. I aim to have a career as rich as hers and I know Elaine wants that for me also.
So, on the days when I have to remind myself that I love my PhD, I no longer feel alone. I have Elaine to help remind me and I help to remind her. If you are doing a PhD and you don’t have an Elaine, get one!
This blog post was inspired by the Research Student Blog Challenge #HDRblog15. The Challenge is an initiative created by the édu flâneuse that encourages research students to share their experiences. Huge thanks to the édu flâneuse for inspiring us to write this post.
Elaine Gregersen is an Associate Professor in Law at Northumbria University. This story was published on November 26, 2015, on Elaine's blog, A Law Unto Herself (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.