Saying yes to saying no

Finishing up a PhD is hard. I mean, all of it is hard, but the final few months are the hardest. You have an intense focus, a one-track mind – not just during work hours, but 24/7.

And inevitably, it always seems like there’s so much else you COULD be doing during those months – somehow, all your friends’ birthdays seem to fall in that short period, or it’s summer and everyone and their mother has invited you to a BBQ.

It’s likely that actually you’re just more acutely aware of all those fun things, because you have to say no to a lot of them, instead hunkering down at your desk with tea and your laptop. Of course you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t say no to everything – you deserve some relaxation time.

There is a lot of guilt in those last few months, at least that’s what I found. When you say no to doing nice things with friends and family, you feel guilty because you haven’t spent much time with them.

When you occasionally say yes to doing nice non-thesis things, you feel guilty the entire time you’re away from your desk. This makes it difficult to actually relax, and to be in the moment, making you feel like you might as well have said no again and had another date night with your thesis.

Even though you do deserve time off, it’s inevitable that as your thesis hand-in deadline gets closer, you’ll be saying ‘no’ to fun things more often. You may worry that friends and family will get annoyed, get sick of asking you, and may even stop asking you altogether.

At this stage, it’s worth remembering that this is only a temporary situation – something I had to be reminded of frequently when I was miserable about not going out, again. You’re saying no to people so that you can focus on your PhD – something you’ve worked towards for years, and friends who are worth being friends with will understand, and be waiting for you when you can come out and play again.

So don’t feel guilty for saying no during those final months and weeks of thesis-writing. That includes extra academic work too – you don’t have to do anything that isn’t directly beneficial to the production of your thesis if you don’t want to, or don’t feel you can. It’s a tough gig, this PhD thing.

Go easy on yourself where you can, and let yourself focus on it when it counts the most – Future You will thank you for it.

Michelle Reeve

Michelle is the host of Clutter, and a recovering spider scientist. She now does a whole bunch of science communication things, and still regularly wrangles arachnids.

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