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The PhD and Guilt – an Essential Partnership in Perpetual Motion

So, you have decided to do a PhD. If you have found your way to this page, you are probably already doing one. So, let me tell you about guilt. Yes, you read right – guilt. This is not the guilt you feel when you eat a muffin, or when you cross the road at a red light. Nope, this guilt is constant and all consuming. It will become a life philosophy.

If you are a few months or a year in, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Alternatively, or so I am told, if you have a child you will know it well, too. It is not by accident that many PhD students call their PhD their “baby”.

So, what am I talking about? It is that constant thought in the back of your mind, the one that is present whilst you go to the gym, eat, meet someone for coffee, read a book or even just before you go to sleep, that what you really could be doing is working on your PhD. You will start reciting parts of your argument in the shower. Believe me – I have done it.

You have two ways out: you can go mad (arguably you already are, you are doing a PhD after all) or you can learn to cope. When you are told in the beginning of your PhD that time-keeping skills are some of the most important skills that you can have, it is not just because your supervisor might be worried that you will not finish the dissertation in time.

As an effective PhD student, you need to prioritize and learn to be able to switch off the computer when it is time. I am not saying you will manage an 8 hour day – because you won’t. But you need to learn to leave your desk and go to the gym, or meet some friends and when you are home you need to be able to read a book for yourself. There is a reason why every PhD student I know has become an accomplished list maker.

Will it make you feel better? Yes. Will you escape the guilt? No. Live with it.


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