PhD & Downtime II

Things we like to do to relax…

by Fiona Martinez


Listening to Podcasts/Audiobooks

One of my favourite ways to switch off from PhD life is to listen to podcasts. The podcasts app on my iPhone features many wonderful sounds, including but not limited to: Witness from the BBC’s World Service, Stuff You Should Know and the excellent Gilmore Guys. However, my absolute favourite is BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour. Any PhD day, however stressful, can be brightened by an episode of Woman’s Hour. Though the topics are not always cheerful, they are an excellent way of tuning into issues that are (for the most part) non-PhD related and feed your feminist soul. So, if I’m getting ready for a big day of studying I put the programme on and allow myself to focus on something other than my to-do list. If I’m travelling to a conference I might listen to WH, instead of studying furiously. This gives me the chance to do something not completely without educational benefit but to also listen to something frequently funny and continuously empowering.

My favourite audiobooks are most certainly without educational benefit, but they’re equally wonderful in different ways: Steve Coogan’s/Alan Partridge’s ‘I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan’ and any of ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’ featuring the ever hilarious Karl Pilkington. You cannot get further away from PhD life…


Time with Other Academics

When PhD life is getting on top of you there’s nothing quite like reaching out to somebody in the same position and saying: “Is it just me, or does this suck sometimes?!” The resounding answer is always: No! It is not just you! Immediately this can make you feel less isolated. Also, if you’re lucky enough to know researchers who are as friendly and supportive as some of the wonderful people I’ve met over the last year, further encouragement will follow. Spending time with other students can allow you to have a much needed ‘vent’ about the challenges of doing a PhD and any particular issues you encounter balancing a PhD with everyday life. Letting out some of your anxiety to an audience who knows what you’re going through is a much needed tonic to the stress of being a PhD student, and after the vent comes the general chat. Here, you get to speak to other individuals with potentially similar interests about lots of fascinating subjects outside of your PhD – a great way to switch off. In America the dating app Bumble has a mode for meeting like-minded women in the hope that you’ll be able to form meaningful friendships. Interacting with fellow PhDers can provide you with a similar opportunity, and forming these relationships can really help you learn how to cope with PhD stress and how to truly switch off from the demands of your studies.


Time with Non-Academics

Yes, time spent with other academics can be enlightening and uplifting, but there’s also something very liberating about socialising with those whose lives are going in entirely different directions. Meeting a friend who works in a totally different area can help you gain perspective. There are many people in different areas working in different ways, and they’re all working incredibly hard perhaps without the enjoyment that you get from your role! This has made me feel more grateful for my PhD funding and more enthusiastic about being a full-time researcher. Another massive bonus is that they tend to know very little about my studies, so I have to try and leave my research out of the conversation! Very enjoyable when coming out of a week of PhD chat.


Cat Time


If you’ve seen the wonderful #academicswithcats hashtag, you’ll know just how many academics have cute cats. Though they might offer no new insights into your research, they are absolutely adorable. Cuddling with cats has calmed me on a nightmare day, and their commitment to lazing around really encourages me to switch off and take some time for myself. Sadly, one of my wonderful cats passed away over the weekend. (I only have two – I’m not a fully-fledged cat lady yet. Someday.) Here’s a photo of him providing company for me during a thorough reading of some Feminist Critical Theory.

For those of you who prefer canine companions, change the title to ‘Dog Time’. I have no doubt getting out for a walk with a dog would be another wonderful way to switch off from PhD life!