Welcome to the PhD Dojo!

This week, I’m bringing you part four of the PhD Dojo series on tools and strategies to make the best out of your PhD experience. Today – Staying Healthy Within and Without, what three habits you need to nurture to stay balanced during grad school.

Below, you’ll find the full – edited to be read – transcript of the live taping of this episode.



Welcome to the third installment of the PhD Dojo series titled “1st Year PhD”, where I share my mistakes, and lessons learned during my PhD.

In the last episode, I talked about building a village around you, a network of people and resources to help you with the obstacles and difficulties that are sure to come during your PhD. A community to make your experience of the day-to-day as a researcher the best possible.

This week, I’m going to talk about the internal journey – I’m going to share three habits you need to develop to make sure your body and mind stay healthy throughout grad school.

And at the end, I will share one mental obstacle that I dealt with, especially during the first year of my PhD, that a lot of us go through, and that, in the extreme, can undermine your whole PhD experience and even your health – especially your mental health.

So, the first habit I’m going to share with you, besides eating well and hydrating, is to move – include sports in your routine, or the physical activity of your choice. For me, it was Aikido and intramural sports. And the benefit they brought me was twofold: physical fitness and a community, social interactions outside the lab. Put it on your schedule and don’t question it – in the end, you’ll see it was time well invested, not lost.

The second habit has to do with staying balanced within. For me, aikido also played a role in this aspect, but for you it can take different forms – yoga, meditation, journaling, knitting, climbing. The day-to-day of the PhD will put strain in your concentration and focus. You need to have a time in the day, or in the week, where you hit the reset button and become centered and balanced, and ready to tackle your research having dissipated any brain fog or fatigue.

On this point – I’d really love to know what is YOUR goto habit to hit that reset button and how often you do it! Share it in the comments section! I’m sure people will appreciate having new strategies to try!

The third habit that is key to a healthy and fulfilling PhD journey is keeping communication channels with friends, family, and mentors open at all times. This was a challenge for me, in part, because I was an international student. My advice is – put as much energy and intent into it as possible – and it’s so easy today – everyone has Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime… What you must avoid at all costs is isolating yourself and cut off your mental and emotional safety net.

Now… I’m telling you all of this, because looking back, I see I could have done much better than I did.

And I told you I’d share an obstacle that a lot of us face, especially when starting your PhD – and this obstacle made me neglect these habits at the beginning of my PhD.

It was the impostor phenomenon – a persistent feeling that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t as good as my peers, and even, at times, that I didn’t belong – that somehow a clerical error was made and I was mistakenly accepted into the PhD Program.

Well – I’m here to tell you two things:

First – the peers you’re comparing yourself with, there’s a high chance they’re having the exact same feelings. A lot of us experience the impostor phenomenon. There are probably workshops offered where you are about it and about how to defuse it. What I have to tell you today is – YOU applied for your program – YOU were accepted – YOU deserve to be where you are. There’s been no mistake. Now, it’s up to you to go learn what you need to learn and find out what you’ve set out to discover. And with your PhD village and your social/emotional safety net, you’ll be well on your way to get there.

And that’s it for today. See you in two weeks, stay connected, and happy PhDing!

Looking forward to being in your ears !

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Click here to share your key take-away from this interview with David!

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