This week is Mental Health Awareness week, and the theme is loneliness. Studying, and especially as a researcher can lead to isolation – by the very nature of your degree you are pursuing an individual project. So we thought it was timely to re-share the thoughts of PhD student Unene on the value of having crew.
It’s also a good time to highlight the University support services available for postgraduate researchers, please access support if you need it. Also this week, if you’d like a break from your routine and chance to meet other students, the Wellbeing Team have a range of sessions for all students, from taking a break, to challenging unhelpful thoughts.
So…it’s true, you come into this world alone and you will mostly likely die alone. But there’s a whole lot of life to be lived in between the start and the end point, and it’s usually made more enjoyable by having people that add value to that life around you. Humans are social beings; we thrive on interactions and forging (meaningful) relationships, rather than being solitary. Yes, there are times when we all want and need to be left alone, but that doesn’t mean that we can, or necessarily have to be alone.
This is as applicable to your higher education journey as it is to life in general. Pursuing knowledge and a degree is a wonderful thing, but it can also be stressful and isolating. We often feel like we have to get the qualification by ourselves, and that we have to shoulder whatever burdens that may arise on our own. This thinking is mostly untrue. Yes, you will have to put in the time to get the work done and write those exams alone, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily alone on that journey. Still a bit sceptical? Allow me to present evidence in support of this notion.
Exhibit A: I grew up with a wonderful mother that used to be a mathematics teacher. She would often help me with my homework when I got stuck or provide some guidance. However, when I got to university, what I was learning was mostly foreign to her – me being in engineering and her being in HR, management and public administration. Nonetheless, when things got tough and I had to stay up until the wee hours of the morning completing assignments or working on circuits, she was right there with me making cups of Milo, holding soldering wire where she could and supporting me during that time. Side note: now I solicit her help, and my brother’s, in the form of reading my thesis chapters.
Exhibit B: Earlier this year I faced a tough time trying to get a circuit functional so I could finish my prototype and complete the experiments I need to do to finish my PhD. I had tried everything but nothing had worked. So I decided to reach out to a bunch of people, from colleagues in another department, technicians in my department and my friends back home (in another continent). Long story short, I managed to get the system working using another method and that whole experience made me realise how many people I had on my “team”. I was reminded that I could call on other people when I got stuck and the importance of doing so.
Exhibit C: It is only normal for things to get a bit tougher the closer you get to complete your degree. During this time of stress and impeding deadlines, having a friend or peer to talk to can be invaluable, especially if they have recently experienced or are going through the same phase as you are. Sometimes that just means having someone you can complain to and having them echo those frustrations from firsthand experience; it becomes a more blatant reminder that you’re not alone in whatever struggle (or triumph) you’re going through.
So, as demonstrated through exhibit A-C, having a crew is very important. Just as Iron Man needs to assemble the Avengers from time to time (yes, I’m a Marvel fan), you need to (and probably do have) a crew you can rely on to have your back. This could be anyone from loved ones and friends, to people in your little black book (is that even still a thing..?) you can call on when things get tough/frustrating/confusing or any other adjective that might arise. So go out there either reinforce your crew or simply thank them for just being there, especially those close to you.