How I transformed my physical and emotional spaces of the PhD

This post is part of a series of themed, fortnightly discussions run by Katy Peplin, Rebecca Enderby, and myself on Twitter under the #MindfulPhD tag. Want to get involved in the discussion? Join us on Twitter!

Writing spaces

What spaces do you inhabit while you do the work of the PhD?

Do you tend to move from space to space? Or, do you stick to one space like your university office or your couch at home?

In my own experience, I’ve felt the need to frequently change up my space.

I regularly move between my home, my university office, various libraries, and the homes of my peers.

And there is no predicting how long each space will be tolerable to me before I have to move again.

Squeezing into “success”

For a long time I tried to resist my need to work in different spaces because I thought I wasn’t a good student if I could not work from my university office.

I forced myself to treat my PhD like a full-time job. I tried to go to university every day and operate on 9-5 hours.

For some people this works, and that is great.

For me, however, this approach resulted in paralysis because I was trying to squeeze into a mould of what I thought a successful PhD student looked like.

This conception of success wasn’t based on any shining example, but it was preventing my own success in doing the work.

After discovering the suffering-free academic writing workshop I’ve mentioned before, I gave myself permission to implement a more flexible work structure.

social writing

As part of this permission, I embraced the work method known as Shut Up & Write (SU&W).

If you haven’t already encountered it, SU&W is an approach to work that utilises the Pomodoro technique in a group social setting. This technique generally uses a 25 minute “on”, 5 minute “off” method, however you can tailor it to your needs and preferences.

Research has found that productivity, focus, and mental endurance are greatly improved when using this approach, and it transforms the nature of writing as a solitary endeavour to one that is social and collaborative.

This is because it allows you to connect with, learn from, and share experiences with other students in a similar position.

Emotional spaces benefit from Social writing too

I use SU&W in the multitude of spaces that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

I’ve found that not only has this social writing approach been beneficial in changing up my physical work spaces, but it has also altered my inner, emotional landscape.

The practice of social writing has positively shaped my belief in my capacity to do the core components of academia: writing and research.

What’s more, I’ve developed deep friendships and made connections with a range from people from different disciplines.

I’ve gone on writing retreats with these people, cooked delicious meals with them, and we have found comfort in each other as we confided our hidden agonies of the PhD process.

Social writing has reduced the power of my PhD Gremlins. I’ve realised that I do not have to be alone in academia and that my experiences of it are not unique.

While this latter realisation is a tad depressing, it has helped me to connect with likeminded people who believe that academia can be a compassionate and collaborative place of work.

For me, social writing has not only transformed the physical experience of the PhD as I alternate the spaces I use, but it has transformed my experience of the emotional space, too.

If you haven’t already, give it a go. Join a group at your university, or get one started. If that’s not practical, you can join online groups as well. Good luck!

One of the many writing spaces I utilise – the living room of a PhD friend.