Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Post-dissertation Reflections & Survival Tips
The transition from part-time student, into full-time cultrual professional finding my way amidst a global pandemic has been a shock to the system to say the least.
As the deadline for my final thesis approached (and in light of COVID reality), I ‘successfully’ managed to strategically schedule in projects, book work and even attempted to pencil in rest time post-submission. But sadly, I never once considered my feelings, emotions or mental health as this transition period approached.
As I dreamt of pressing submit, I naïvely planned to jump for joy, crack open the champagne and dance the night away in celebration. Instead, in reality, I sat, in silence, feeling slightly numb. Without a doubt, I was sleep-deprived and very, VERY hungry (following a 24-hour marathon of proof-reading and obsessive correcting). But still, the unattainable expectation of uncontrollable happiness didn’t happen. I felt nothing: nothing but traces of sadness.
The morning after (my submission), thankfully, a sense of gratitude began to arise. Still, it was intermixed with profound confusion. Confusing thoughts aligning with what next questions, what now and how do I adjust to this ‘new normal’ kind of thought process?
“Was I grieving, or is this what freedom feels like?”
All valid questions which required time in reflection, meditation and discussion – time am yet to carve out because if I don’t, it’ll creep up on me soon enough.
According to other theorists, it’s not so uncommon to feel depressed, anxious and burnt-out post-dissertation. Researcher Jackie Koerner describes it as sheer “panic [...] starting the job search.” Anthropologist Elizabeth Rodwell defines it as the “Post-Dissertation Slump.” Lastly, mathematician Brian Flemming refers to the “post [PhD/Masters] blues” as an “unsettling time.” All definitions I can relate too and descriptions which certainly require a (mental, emotional and physical) adjustment period.
As I reckon with this new season, my thoughts turn to how students can better prepare for this post-academic slump. Preventing such an extreme morning-after feeling. I’ve listed three simple tips which have helped me process during this slump season, and might have been useful during the intense writing season also:
Journal: Journaling daily has known benefits of reducing stress, keeping memory attentive, strengthening emotional functions and boosting mood. Taking 10 mins at the beginning (or at the end of the day) could literally be a game-changer for our wellbeing.
Exercise: Sometimes, the last thing you want to do when the shoulders are heavy, and the mind is full, is exercise. But actually, it’s known to decrease stress, increase self-esteem and self-confidence and improves sleep. All things that sustain the intense research period and help with the transition process.
Lastly, a routine: During my research phase, I had a set routine (if you need some support on productivity checkout Ellen Kelley "how to manage your time as a student"). Post studies, however, a routine kinda went out the window. "Not helpful". So, finding a new life flow helps combat any slump. Setting a time to pray/meditate, a time to cook, clean, meet friends (on zoom), a time to exercise, plan projects etc... may help.
Without a doubt, these may seem like quick fixes but having attempted to implement all three suggestions in my daily routine, they seem to be working. Though I would suggest if the slump period persists, seeing a counsellor might also be helpful. Check out these FREE services:
1. The Caravan
"To all recent graduates, I feel you, you are not alone!"
To current students, I wish you the best of luck on this academic journey. Amongst brainstorming, planning schedules and researching topics of interest, try to consider preventative measures that support your mental health and wellbeing during this season.
Flemming, B. (2015) The Post PhD Blues, The Thesis Whisperer. Available at: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2015/02/18/the-post-phd-blues/
Goetzke, K. (2018) Top 10 Daily Habits To Keep Depression Away. Available at: //psychcentral.com/lib/top-10-daily-habits-to-keep-depression-away/
Kelley, E. (2020) How to manage your time as a student | 10 Tips to stop procrastinating & get things done! - YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTQwYi6jAuQ
Koerner, J. (2016) Mourning a dissertation, Jackie Koerner. Available at: https://www.jackiekoerner.com/tag/dissertation/
NHS (2018) Physical activity guidelines for older adults, nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-older-adults/
NHS (2019) Tips for coping with depression, nhs.uk. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/dealing-with-depression/
Rodwell, E. (2015) Surviving the Post-Dissertation Slump | Chronicle Community. Available at: https://community.chronicle.com/news/1046-surviving-the-post-dissertation-slump
Walden University (2020) five-mental-benefits-of-exercise. Available at: https://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-psychology/resource/five-mental-benefits-of-exercise