I’m still here


It’s been a tumultuous year. I’ve discussed some of this before, but 10 months out I’ve some more perspective. Here goes nothing.

In January, I took an intermission from my PhD to travel overseas with a family member with a chronic health condition to assist them in helping another sick family member. I spent three months there. In those three months I did not work on or even think about my PhD. I didn’t have the time!

It took those three months just focusing on the day to day, removed from the world of academia to finally process what I had begun to realise in the the third year of my PhD; I wanted out of academia. It was a scary and a liberating realisation. It was liberating to decide that I wanted out because I could get off the merry-go-round of publish or perish and extra-curricula commitments designed to make me a competitive candidate for academia. Instead, I could focus on finishing my Clinical PhD and pursuing clinical work both therapy and assessments full-time rather than predominantly assessment work part-time as I had previously intended.

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I took some more time off when I returned home to recuperate from all the care-taking I had been doing. Then I began to consider how equipped I was for my new game plan. I had some concerns. Across the placements I’d completed and my research, I’d gained considerable experience with diagnostic and assessment work and good grounding in therapy for supporting children and their families. However, I had relatively less experience providing therapy to adults.  I felt that I had not yet had enough experience with adult therapy to rule this sort of work in or out, and that I could do with more exposure working with this population in an in-patient clinic setting to complement my previous experience in  community based psycho-social rehab work.

I voiced my concerns to someone in the department and was offered an extra placement that would give me the chance to support people with some of the most complex difficulties you can encounter as a psychologist and give me a greater breadth and depth of experience. The catch? The placement would clearly be very challenging, involved a very long commute and would finish just three months before my thesis was due. The placement was exactly what I needed, but the timing was awful. What did I do? I took the opportunity anyway.

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I’ve since started the placement and it was a good move. The challenges the clients who attend the clinic present with are complex but the supervision is excellent and I’m learning so much. Thankfully the commute is a little quicker than anticipated too. The work is also less difficult than I anticipated too.

As for the impact on my research, I can’t deny that there has been an effect. I’ve not written a thing towards my thesis, but data collection is getting there, slowly. So I just remind myself to do what I can and be kind to myself. It’s bittersweet watching my cohort enter the final weeks before they submit, knowing they will soon be gone and I will still be here. But next year, that will be me too: thesis submitted, job applications in, freedom awaiting.

This past year and my clinical work has reminded me of a favourite maxim of mine that I would like to share with you:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

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3 Comments

Filed under academic culture, career, Clinical Phd, PhD, placement, psychology, Reflections

3 responses to “I’m still here

  1. PhDbaby

    I just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed following your blog. I have just completed the first year of my clinical PhD, and while I never intended to become an academic, I do hope the PhD will enable me to be involved in research in addition to clinical work with adults. I’ve been very careful to apply for placements that will stretch me and hopefully provide a really strong foundation for my future career. My research topic is also very clinically oriented but it’s been a real struggle to make any progress on it while fulfilling my coursework and placement obligations. I feel like I have to start from scratch as I’ve forgotten everything I tried to do in semester 1. If you have any tips on how to maintain momentum on the research despite all the other demands I’d be really interested. Sometimes I look at my Masters peers and wish I hadn’t been so ambitious!

    • My 2c is that doing a PhD is really challenging, doing masters is really challenging and doing both at the same time is on a whole other level! My cohort had the same issues you’ve mentioned. We often talked about the clinical PhD as a juggling act.

      Different strokes for different folks but here are some ideas:
      – Keep a research journal to jot down what you’ve read and why and how those readings might fit in with your lit. review/inform your study as you go. Even just a sentence per paper.
      – Embrace syntax and imagine that ‘future you’ coming back to your analyses knows absolutely nothing about what you did and why because chances are, this might be the reality! I took to writing short notes to myself within the syntax about what research question the syntax related to, my rationale for the analyses, what dataset I’d used and a very brief interpretation of the results.
      – When you leave off writing for the day, jot down a couple of sentences about where the writing should be headed next.
      – Share your woes with other clinical PhD students, they are the only ones who will truly get what’s its like to juggle it all.
      – Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you will have to abandon the clinical or research part of your degree for a bit, and that is okay. You also want to make sure you’re looking after yourself especially when there is a lot of pressure to get things done. Slow and steady wins the race, burn out ends the race :(.

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, its much appreciated. It sounds like you’ve got a solid action plan there for balancing the best of both words. Best of luck with the juggling act.

      • PhDbaby

        Thank you so much for your advice. I am not very good at keeping on top of the organizational aspects of research. I’m constantly reading and forgetting, so your advice to keep notes on everything is so spot on. I feel like i need a solid month just to organize the folders of papers I’ve collected and then forgotten about! I wish you all the best too 😊

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