Wednesday 18 December 2019

Refocusing my priorities

Linda shares her experience about managing her time whilst studying a Masters. 

- Linda

Why, why, why, would someone torture themselves by studying a Masters? There is the expense, intense workload, and imposter syndrome. My parents' friends tell me that I MUST be smart because I am tackling mountains and storms. My graduated peers shudder at the thought of more exams and coursework. Before starting my MSc, I looked at the outside world baffled because my friends preferred commuting on jam-packed trains and the rigid monotony that is a nine to five. I saw adults perpetually sleep-deprived, balancing parenting and working, paying council taxes and mortgages. In comparison to the other options, doing an MSc seemed like it would be a lot easier.

However, the first term of my MSc has been quite a challenge. During the first couple of weeks, I felt like I was floundering about. I had one lecture a week on research methods and everything else was independent work and study. It felt like a long stretch of procrastination and loneliness. I went to the University library every day, desperate to fill my time with something productive. I read journal articles. I worked; one, two, three, four part-time jobs. At home, I tried to be busy. I drew, and nothingness. My priority and purpose were to excel academically. By my fifth week, things had picked up in pace. I FINALLY received full ethical approval for my research project. I had to run forty individual laboratory experiments, analyse the data and write up a report.

Eager to get started, I woke up at seven every day, tested all day, and went home in the evening to work on my report plan. Five days later, I finished testing and analysing my data. I had twelve weeks to write my report. I could have stopped there with testing but being productive and proactive was addictive. I wasn't focused on recovering from my eating disorder. Eating nutritious and healthy meals could take a back seat. I did not care that I was shaking from the five cups of coffee that I drank in the morning. I wasn't worried about the fact that my sleeping pattern was deteriorating. I did not realise that I spent all my day locked up in a lab, living and breathing my research. Everything felt second-best compared to my research.

Fast forward four weeks, academically, I was doing exceptionally. I had run one-hundred experiments, whilst working four part-time jobs. My supervisor was impressed; she remarked that I was doing the level of work that she expected from a PH.d. student and that we could potentially try and publish our research in an academic journal. However, mental health-wise, I was struggling. I was hardly sleeping, socialising and engaging in my hobbies. I was having many outbursts of irritability and self-harming. I was excelling academically, but quite clearly unwell and unhappy. Don't get me wrong - studying an MSc does not mean that you will be unhappy. I personally feel like I need to constantly prove myself to the world. I have to appear smart, resilient and competent. I think it is a pervasive pattern of behaviour that would have surfaced regardless of whether I decided to work full-time or do a graduate scheme.

More than ever, going forward, my mental health, as opposed to my MSc, should be my priority. Since then, I have made some positive changes to improve my wellbeing. Under the supervision of my GP, I have increased my anti-depressant dosage. I am refocusing on recovering from my eating disorder in small steps and allowing myself space to breath. Hopefully, during my next term, I can maintain these positive changes whilst enjoying my MSc. 

For more information on looking after your mental health as a postgraduate, see here.  

Hello, my name is Linda. I am studying an MSc in Psychological research at the University of Warwick. I found out about Student Minds when I was doing my dissertation. I was impressed by their efforts to try and improve University experience and was eager to get involved. 

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