We recently looked at why the middle part of the PhD can be so difficult for many students.
I wouldn’t be here, spouting random advice to the interwebz, without attempting to provide you a solution for the second year dip. Now, as the causes for the second-year dip vary, the solutions vary too. There’s no one size fits all solution to the second year dip. Every PhD, every candidate, and every situation is different.
Yet, let me try to provide some ideas for a solution. Here are a few things to consider when the second-year dip hits:
- Log what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved: If you feel like you are not making progress, it may be good to keep a log of what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved. Heck, I still keep a log of my work as it also helps to see what I have been working on from my planning and what fell off. You can consider keeping a special list with achievements (papers, courses finished, etc) to look back on when you feel like you are not achieving anything.
- Look at your long-term planning: If you worry that your progress is too slow, take aside half a day to revisit your original planning form the beginning of your PhD. For sure, things will have changed along the way, but it’s good to revisit and see how you can pivot, which major milestones you still have ahead of you, and how the overall layout of your next months and years look like.
- Try a weekly template: If you are struggling with too many responsibilities at the same time, try to use a weekly template and give every task its assigned time. You know then when during the week you’ll be able to deal with different tasks, and that will help you feel more relaxed and less in the need of directly reacting to everything as it comes in in a chaotic way.
- Make choices in your responsibilities: If you really have too much on your plate, talk to your supervisor to see how you can reduce your load. If you want the data to back you up, track your time to get a better idea of how you are spending your time on various tasks. If it’s more than the time in your contract, talk to your supervisor to see how you can solve this.
- Work on your habits: You still have a long way to go in your PhD, so it’s time to start thinking long-term as well. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, socialize, exercise, and find time for hobbies and relaxation. If you find yourself fully dedicated to your PhD, start making small changes to improve your habits.
- Get support: If you are struggling with your PhD, know that there are many coaches specialized in supporting PhD candidates. Tell your supervisor about your struggles, and see which type of support from within the university (specialized services) or outside the university (external coach) you can get. You can sign up for individual or group coaching. If you struggle with your mental health, get the right help from a therapist – your university typically also will have mental health services to support you. You can also take a course to work on improving your habits, or a course that teaches you better time management or other soft skills, depending on what you struggle most with.
Have you tried any of these solutions? What worked for you and what not?