Conferences and other events throughout your time as a PhD student can be very exciting and bring lots of new opportunities. You might get to visit another region or country, make lifelong colleagues and friends, get some expert feedback on your work, or maybe even score your dream job opportunity. You are hopefully also going to get some great advice and insight from your supervisors. There really is a lot to get out of research related events, even if you are not presenting.
It is also important to acknowledge, however, just how tiring and draining events can be on your energy levels, and to give yourself time and permission to decompress, sometimes even when you have a great time. As a neurodivergent student, I have both really enjoyed the lead up to events but equally made sure I have made time to decompress as well as learn to do things differently to help me personally next time round. Here are a few tips to ensure that you allow yourself a break and time away from work, deadlines, and events (which also applies to meetings internally at university).
Pre, during and post event
When I talk about decompressing from events, this is not just after the event had finished. This is throughout the process of researching and booking your attendance to an event, preparing your applications and submission and anything at the actual event too. For example, if you are new to applying to academic events, though it is similar to other scenarios you may have experienced, it could still be a new context for you and it is important to validate any worries in this process.
You could plan in something to celebrate after completing part of an application or submitting an abstract, such as making yourself a hot drink and having time to yourself for half an hour. During the event, you could plan to have some time for yourself around the times of intense or constant socialising with others, as well as before and after presenting. After the event, again giving yourself some down time alone or to do something unrelated to the event is great for letting yourself rest and re-build energy levels.
Validating your need for space
It is common for conference-type events in research to be held over the summer season when teaching is less likely to be intense. This means that a lot of events can happen in the space of a few months. This can mean a lot of socialising all at once which whilst it can be very exciting, it can also be very draining. It is completely okay for you to not attend an entire event and take breaks for yourself elsewhere during and around the event times.
You might fear missing out and feel guilty for not attending everything, however it is beneficial so as to not become overwhelmed. At a doctoral seminar I recently attended, I felt really bad for not staying for a presentation of one of the other students I had become close to. However, it was right before I was due to present and I needed a break from a full day of presentations to decompress and centre myself.
How to plan your time
In order to decompress from events, I have personally found the following helpful in giving myself permission to take some time out:
- Out of office emails – even if you do want to do some work when you are back from a conference, it is great to let people know that you are unlikely to reply to emails straight away – this will give you some time for yourself without the worry of feeling like you need to respond.
- Calendar – Using your calendar to block out some time after an event (even a supervisor meeting) can be very good at reminding yourself to take a break. It means you are likely to prevent scheduling anything that might be too difficult to focus on after an event you want to decompress from.
- Paper reminders – If you make lists for your days and weeks, actually reminding yourself that you need a break after a certain event is another way to do this, similar to the calendar method.
- Get someone to tell you – This can be great if you attend an event with a colleague or are in the office with colleagues before or after an event. Having them provide you with a reminder can prove to be a great external validation for allowing yourself some time out.
- Prioritise planning in personal and social time – As someone who has previously felt bad about scheduling in fun time over work, I have found this to be more effective. It means I actually have down time to enjoy no matter how my work or contributions at events turn out. Even if I decide not to do something with others for fun, I still have that time blocked out for decompressing by myself too.
Hopefully this blog post provided some reassurance and validation for being able to decompress from events both at conferences and any other events and meetings related to your PhD. There are many other things you can do to support yourself in decompressing and hopefully this will help in looking after yourself before, during, and after events.