Monday, 7 December 2015

'Rules' for Completing a PhD

I had a rather unsuccessful day in the lab today and gave up trying to make any sense of my results, so I thought I would share a post I wrote a wee while ago when I was struggling with the notion of continuing my PhD. Bringing up two kids, along with studying full time, is a pretty tough thing to do, and can often lead to a great deal of stress. I find writing helps to relieve some of that stress...

A PhD is a demanding job, with many deadlines to meet, so it is very important that we don't forget to relax in our free time and take part in enjoyable activities as a way of relieving stress. One of my favourite things to do is watch horror movies, particularly those involving zombies and other apocalyptic scenarios. One of my favourite examples is “Zombieland”, a film which manages to combine both the guts and gore of a juicy horror film with the sarcasm and laughter of a comedy film – a Zom Com if you prefer! The story follows a young college student, known as “Columbus” as he treks across the states, surviving by adhering to his own practical and simple rules.

While relaxing one night, it occurred to me that undertaking a PhD may not be all that different to living in an apocalypse, and by following some of the “rules” laid out in “Zombieland”, survival is possible! 

Rule #1 – Cardio 

The first rule of Zombieland, Cardio, is definitely important for surviving the onslaught of thousands of the undead - you must be able to run away!

For PhD students Cardio is also an important rule. It is all too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle with all the time spent at a computer and in meetings. The inevitable thesis writing will often be accompanied by munching tasty biscuits and sweets or consuming copious amounts of Red Bull. Effort should be made to have a regular exercise routine not only for overall physical health, but also to improve concentration and learning. This exercise routine doesn’t need to be hours in the gym, for example, something as simple as a walk in the park will help to clear your mind. 

Rule #22 – When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out 

Columbus uses this rule to prepare an exit route for every disused building he ventures into, a good plan when there is a risk of zombies hiding in the cereal aisle of an abandoned grocery store.

For PhDs, this rule works well in the sense that you should always have a back-up plan for when things go wrong, since this is almost a certainty when carrying out research. There is nothing worse than the feeling that you have wasted several months of work by pinning all your hopes on the outcome of a poorly researched experiment. However, good or bad, the results will still have to be explained. Plan well and manage your time efficiently in order to get the most out of your PhD. 

Rule #7 – Travel Light 

A zombie apocalypse requires survivors to be continually on the move, avoiding the armies of walking dead which cover the planet. Travelling light is a necessity, since petrol stations have been depleted and most places are therefore only accessible by foot.

PhD students are also regularly on the move with conference attendance and visits to industry commonplace throughout the duration of study. These meetings provide you with valuable experience needed to build many of your skills in research and management. From experience, cramming several bags and a poster tube onto a busy rush hour train, followed by a tiresome six hour journey, is not my idea of a pleasant afternoon. Hence, pack only what you absolutely need for a comfortable stay at your destination. 

Rule #29 – The Buddy System 

If you should ever find yourself in a post-apocalyptic environment, with the possibility of danger at every turn, it is not often possible to watch your own back all the time. Teaming up with a survivor or group of survivors is a wise move for self-preservation.

Surviving a PhD can be just as difficult if you don’t use the buddy system. Spend time with your friends and colleagues and make sure you know who to turn to if you have any problems with your PhD. An evening in a local pub can do wonders for stress relief, as can fun activities within your research group. Remember, always spending time alone, cooped up in a lab or with your head buried in a book, is not healthy for anyone. Take part in social activities every so often in order to get the most out of your PhD. 

Rule #32 – Enjoy the Little Things 

A recurring theme throughout Zombieland is the search for ‘Twinkies’ undertaken by one of the characters known as “Tallahassee”. His enjoyment of this small, cream-filled American delicacy beautifully demonstrates this final rule – at the end of the world, it is very important to take enjoyment from the little things.

The same can be said for a PhD. Three or four years is a long time to carry out a piece of research, however (if you let it) it can be some of the most enjoyable years of your life! Take the time to enjoy the surroundings of your conference venue, revel in the beauty of the single crystal in your vial that has taken one week to grow, realise that your knowledge of coffee varieties is most likely at its peak. Try and find something every day that makes you glad to be given such a fantastic opportunity, it can be the little things that make you most happy!

While I have applied these rules to undertaking a PhD, they also fit well with my life as a mother. I learned pretty quickly that I can't take everything with me when I travel with children, and I also have to follow the 'Cardio' rule in order to cope with running around after a toddler. Above all else, we all need to make sure we 'enjoy the little things' in life!
Follow my blog with Bloglovin


  1. This was interesting, I am not a zombie girl so I think some of it went over my head. However, the advice on having fun and not letting the situation get to you rings true.

    1. Thanks :) I've been trying to see the positive things about work and life recently, I like coming back to these rules every so often :)

  2. I love Zombieland! What a fun comparison!

    1. Haha, thanks! I'm often planning for the zombie apocalypse, this shows that at least the plans are transferrable :)

  3. Great rules and they apply in so many situations. :)


© Tiggy Poes and Flutterbys. All rights reserved.