PhD life and deadlines…

Sometimes PhD students have to do things that they don’t want to do. For example, writing this blog on Friday evening. Writing about science should be fun, but here I am writing reluctantly on the last day before the submission. Sitting in my office reading papers about Auger electron spectroscopy and trying to filter beamtime data at the same time. Also listening to lofi music to keep calm. A lot is going on in my ‘PhD life’ and personal life at the moment. From stressful things like flight cancellations and manuscript revision to rather fun things like dance classes and new data analysis codes.

During my PhD, along with the science training, I’m learning to deal with deadlines. Time management is difficult when doing two types of tasks: something you enjoy and something you know nothing about. As a researcher, most of our tasks fall into these two categories. It’s easy to lose track of time on some days and pass time procrastinating on other days. My fellow PhD students have developed different strategies to deal with this problem. I personally, keep a work journal and elaborate ‘To do list’. Some friends set alarms to remind them of tasks. Some have no strategy, they are the wild ones living life on the edge and often missing deadlines. While letting things roll might work in the short term, eventually you will realise that planning is important.

Ironically, time management during your PhD can sometimes be more difficult than your scientific tasks. In my first year, I used monthly planners, now in my third year, I use weekly planners. I often forget or postpone boring tasks for a few weeks, if I didn’t write them down then I would forget them indefinitely. Another reason to have a planner is for prioritising! In my head, if my weekly tasks are coding, reading papers and grading lab reports then I would ‘forget’ to do the grading. But when the first task on my planner is grading then the urge to strike it off motivates me. Often you might live like in a video game, navigating your way from one level to another. Doing uninteresting tasks and attending endless meetings, the only fun thing is striking off things from your to-do list!

A picture of messy office desk surrounded by pictures of flowers.
Finding harmony in chaos: It’s every PhD students fate to get lost in the sea of papers similar to the one I have today on my office desk.

Planners can also be annoying when unplanned things come up and you can’t complete your to-do list. Or when you spend the entire Monday morning ‘planning’ with colourful markers. Or get overwhelmed by the big list of tasks. It can also be disappointing when you plan an unfeasible amount of work. So, it’s best to avoid making long to-do lists and always keep some free time scheduled for extra tasks. It’s also important to schedule your tasks wisely during the day. Like morning are mentally and physically inactive for me, so I answer emails during that time. Towards the evening when my brain is finally awake I can do other tasks like reading or coding more efficiently. So I try to plan my day accordingly.

Finally, planning and time management are acquired skills that we can all master. PhD life is unique because we are our own managers. So no matter how well you plan, you will probably end up working late Friday evenings sometimes.

Smita Omkarnath Ganguly

I'm a Physics PhD student at Lund University investigating the ultrafast dynamics of small quantum systems.

2 Responses

  1. Tim Erichlandwehr says:

    Great idea! Had to chuckle while reading it 😀

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