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Tips for Research Survival: Documenting research achievements

Rose McHardy from the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry begins this series looking at helpful ways of working through a PhD.

Tips for Research Survivla: #1 Documenting Research Achievements. A board full of post it notes.

I have spent the majority of my first year of research overwhelmed by the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. I finish on a Friday evening wondering whether I have achieved enough that week, whether I am on track to complete.

One of the characteristics of a PhD is the inability to compare your progress to another student. While you may be spending your first 6 months searching the literature, a PhD student in the same office may already have started their experiments or data collection. At this point it would be natural to panic and feel you are falling behind. This would often be my own course of action, but I wanted to come up with a way to curb these feelings of failure.

There are many methods out there that claim to increase productivity and maintain motivation. One recurring technique was to document your successes. The idea behind this is to remind yourself everything you have achieved when you feel you have made little progress. This involved writing down just one thing you successfully completed that day related to your PhD.

I was slightly sceptical of the idea as I felt at the time that were days where I wasn’t achieving anything. When you have one of those days in research where everything seems to be going wrong (which can happen more often than you would like to believe) what could I possibly highlight as a success then?

Despite this, I began. Before I went to bed every evening, I would right down on a post-it note just one thing I had achieved that day, no matter how small or insignificant it may be. I would then stick this note on the wall behind my desk, so that I could frequently read them while at work.

A wall full of post it notes with dates and writing to document research achievements
Cluttering my wall with post-it notes means I physically can't escape my achievements.

For those who struggle with imposter syndrome, I would strongly recommend documenting research successes to remind yourself how far you have come. I have kept this up for 4 months now. As I don’t have 4 months’ worth of wall space, I have moved the post-its to a journal, so whenever I require motivation, I can flick through the pages and find endless, personal success.

If you do try this technique out, please let me know via Twitter (@RoseMcHardy) as I would love to see how it works out for others!

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