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I am so grateful for my supervisor!

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I am so grateful for my supervisor!

The title of this post is a direct quote from my supervisor—it may not seem like much but these words changed my entire attitude and feelings towards my PhD.

Rewind just a little bit… I went on holiday and then it was Christmas… but then I had a really productive day figuring out what the next 6 months of my PhD would entail. I even wrote about it, I was so happy. I then emailed this great plan to my supervisor and got back a “let’s discuss” … stress, fear, sheer panic.

I am so grateful to have the supervisor I do: she’s supportive and cares both about the project and me as a person, both pastorally and in terms of my development. She supports and encourages without patronising. She’s everything I could ask for, so I know when I get a “let’s discuss,” that’s a very nice way of saying, “this needs to be redone.”

Cue an outpouring to a very tired husband after his long day of work: tears, shouting, wanting to quit. Much of “what am I doing with my life?” “have I wasted this last year?” “I’m just not good enough!” and “I have no skills,” etc.

I might as well have burst into flames. Alas, like Fawkes (my favourite phoenix), rising from the pile of ashes, an ugly little bird was born. I got out my post-it notes and my coloured pens and a big sheet of paper (this was after I decided that I needed a whiteboard and tried to write on our windows with a marker) and got to work. My ugly baby phoenix plan was growing from the ash of my fears and scattered pieces of work I’d done so far.

I stepped back, thought about the design process, wrote it, out and started to get somewhere. My husband was a great sounding board (even though it turns out he had skipped lunch and I was delaying his dinner—oops), simultaneously keeping me calm and focused and repeating what I was saying to make sure it actually made sense. At least one person thought that I was making sense, as I wasn’t so sure!

By about 22:30, after about 4 hours of stressing and planning, I was relatively happy. I was ready to do some yoga to clear my head and then get some sleep. My pile of ashes had grown up, through some pretty horrendous teenage years, to being something of a beautiful bird.

New day, new stress: what if my supervisor hates this plan. By this point, I was only 24 hours from my meeting with my supervisor and I was just so worried – now that I had figured out what I was doing and where I wanted to go – that she would “guide me in a slightly different direction” i.e. REDO!

I didn’t realise the pent-up energy and stress I had about this, until I heard those most wonderful words: “this is a good plan.” Weight lifted, frown gone; sorted. With another meeting at the end of this week to discuss a time plan, I’m feeling optimistic; so optimistic in fact that I’m planning to finish in 3 years. I have 3.5 years of funding, but I just don’t want to run over that, so I’m factoring in some overspill time.

I’m so grateful that my supervisor helped me through enough to make sure I didn’t get totally lost, but not guide me into exactly what I should/could be doing. I feel like I’ve achieved something. My post today is a positive one, I just wanted to share that this process isn’t easy, because I wish that I had believed the people around me who said they struggled too. The problem is, we don’t tend to talk about our struggles. So, to everyone else you’re fine and progressing nicely. I’m sharing this to show that I’ve been struggling too, and if anyone else is reading this and struggling, I promise, it’s not just you. 

Shruti Turner (@ShrutiTurner) is a PhD Researcher at Imperial College London. This story was published on January 8, 2018, on Shruti’s blog, Shruti’s PhD (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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Published on: May 28, 2019

PhD Researcher, Imperial College London, having previously done an MSc Biomedical Engineering and BEng Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Southampton
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