Year 3: How’s the PhD going?

It’s been 939 days since I started my PhD. My planned thesis submission date is 493 days from today.

I still have plenty of time, right?

Since my sojourn in the Valley of Shit/Tunnel of Doom last summer, I’ve managed to make solid progress on research and writing. My trusty (and, more importantly, healthy) new work routine has been hugely helpful for upping my productivity and downing lessening my exhaustion and anxiety levels. Since September I’ve churned out somewhere between 1.5 – 2 thesis chapters, and I’ve also interviewed 8 theatre designers/directors about their work. This is good.

The idea of interviewing practitioners had been part of my initial PhD proposal (see fig. 1), but it wasn’t until Year 3 that I felt ready to reach out and start making interview arrangements. It’s been a nerve-wracking process at times but also very rewarding. I tend to get quite attached to the productions I write about; it’s been a real joy to talk to the people who made them, and to find out more about how each show was brought into being. (Read: interviews are terrifying but worth it.)

PhD Comic Strip Small
Fig. 1. What I thought my PhD was about before I actually started researching/writing it. (It’s mostly still okay, but I’d do the first three blocks differently now. Shakespeare’s Globe being the cause of a new trend = nope – this stuff goes waaay back. Authenticity = bleh let’s not.)

I have a relatively exact understanding of my progress because I’ve surrounded myself with various forms of lists and trackers. I’ve always been a fan of To-Do lists, but the PhD has taken this appreciation (/obsession) to a whole new level.

On a whiteboard I keep a simple bar chart so I can watch the word count of my entire thesis/current chapter grow as I write. I also have rolling 6-month and 6-week writing plans to help me stay on track with my thesis completion schedule. The completion schedule is required by my university (I have to submit one each year as part of my Mid-Year Review process), but the idea of keeping rolling writing plans came from a free Writers’ HQ online course.


Planning 2

I check in with my plans every few days and update them as needed. I find this approach really useful for keeping up my motivation/morale: the finish line is still a fair way away, but I can have bitesize progress victories on a regular basis.

To give myself as much space as possible to get this thing written, I’m in the process of slimming down my extra-curricular commitments. My tendency to take on a zillion side-projects means that I’m usually juggling a weird and wonderful range of tasks each week (editing a journal, organising academic events, writing things for other projects, etc.). Year 3 of the PhD is definitely the time to cut down on these interesting but time-consuming endeavours. I’m still working on a long-term project with the Victoria & Albert Museum a couple of days each month, but other than that I should now (in theory) be cutting pretty much everything else out.

Importantly, this cutting-down process does not apply to hobbies and other Fun Things. I’ve learnt during the PhD that being strict about my work/life balance is so important for staying healthy and happy. Taking weekends and evenings off was key to getting back on track after burning out last summer. I’ve never been good at switching off, so keeping myself busy with non-work-related activities (baking, dressmaking, walking) is my best way of relaxing. I’ve been getting some out-of-character gardening urges recently, so perhaps I’ll even have a whole new hobby by the end of the summer!

So, how is the PhD going? 

939 days in I am focused but not (yet) panicked. I am just about keeping up with my completion schedule. I can see the finish line and it doesn’t feel like a scary sight. I love my project more today than I did on Day 1. I really want a dog.

So, on balance, I think that means things are going… well?

I think the PhD is going well.

The PhD is going well.





(Having a doggo pal would definitely make things next-level good, though.)