[Attempting to] Beat the Second year PhD blues

As I approach the middle of the second year of my PhD I can finally understand what fellow post-grad students around me have been talking about all this time- the dreaded “second year PhD blues” have hit.

I have debated whether or not to blog about this idea/my feelings for a little while. However, I’ve decided to get out of my comfort zone and to write a short post as a release for my own frustrations and hopefully a reminder to other PhD students that these feelings can come up and you shouldn’t feel like you are a failure.

The first year of my PhD was filled with the excitement of planning my projects and researching ideas. It also followed with some incredible fieldtrips all around Australia, you can see this on my blog post’s here and here (I love what I get to call work!). Then it all got really hectic at the start of my second year where tasks just seem to pile up so high that it was hard to know where to start. I weighed, measured and germinated thousands of seeds and planted over 2000 seedlings all while trying to juggle planning for my next projects as well as staying up to date with the literature and trying to write/publish a few manuscripts. I was exhausted from all the seedling planting and being on campus ridiculous hours every week (it’s a 1hr30min commute from home). I also had a manuscript get rejected with some pretty harsh comments. I got to the point where I was doubting my research, projects and abilities and didn’t really know if I was even supposed to be doing a PhD. All of this, I can assure, is the norm for PhD students and in the science sphere. I see my fellow lab members and faculty members putting in the hard yards for the science they love, even though it’s not always easy.

Thankfully, my amazing husband convinced me to take a holiday to Europe that we had planned at the exact right time and I had a really refreshing few weeks away which has given me just enough energy to power through measuring around 15 plant traits on over 2000 plants as well as tackling the comments on my rejected manuscript. I don’t regret going on holiday at all. It gave me a strict timeframe to work in before I left and I ended up smashing a few targets I’d set as I was working up to it. It also gave me some great perspective of how much bigger life is than my PhD and how important relationships, friendships and your personal health can be. On top of all that, I also got to visit an old lab friend and see her university and research in Estonia, very cool!

Here’s some holiday photos of the amazing places in Europe I visited:

And it wouldn’t be a blog by me if there wasn’t some pretty plant pictures, so here’s some cool European plants:

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Moving towards the end of my second year and facing the realities of deciding what to do after my PhD (I can’t put off the real world any longer!) I am attempting to stay sustained by the positive energy of my amazing travels and reminding myself of my love for science and particularly plants even when things seem difficult! I also have an awesome supervisor who is pretty much always available to answer my questions and very supportive of our lab. This has helped a lot, and I think it is such an important factor to consider when deciding where to do your PhD or whom to pick as a supervisor.

Maybe you’re a post-grad student and you’ve experienced a similar feeling. The stats have shown that depression is much higher in post-graduate students than the general public (Evans, et al. 2018) and mental health can deteriorate quickly. Don’t go through it alone, talk to your friends, family, lab mates, supervisor etc. Take your weekends to recharge physically and mentally, prioritise things you enjoy, spend time with loved ones. And don’t be afraid to take a small holiday if you have time, it may actually mean your focus and productivity are improved!


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