Comparison: the buzzkill

There are some days during my PhD journey that I feel like a winner.  Emails come through with definitive answers and advice, words flow onto the laptop screen and goals are checked off the list.  These days are deeply satisfying and are what keep me pushing forward through the PhD marathon.

This moment of feeling accomplished can be quickly stollen by the biggest thief around – COMPARISON (just ask Theodore Roosevelt 😉 *Like my tricky citation there??  A few minutes on Twitter, a conversation with a fellow PhD student, a meeting with my supervisors or a quick read of a blog can all turn my smug joy into insecurity and doubt.  It seems like every other PhD student is more 1) experienced, 2) doing more complex research, 3) have already published books and journal articles and are 4) feeling stressed about how ‘busy’ their life is.  These points can quickly ramp up the imposter syndrome for me big time.

  1. Never having conducted formal research before is a bit of a stumbling block for me.  I’ve been trying to apply for grant money and scholarships but leaving entire sections of the application blank doesn’t seem promising.  How does one get into research when you’ve never done it before?  You have to start at some point and can’t be born into the world an experienced researcher (I assume this statement is true)
  2. There’s a lot of people out there saving the world, curing cancer and reducing poverty.  That’s all very good and important but in comparison, my project seems so small and insignificant.  When I talk about it with others I hear myself and think ‘is this worthy of a PhD?’  Still not sure…
  3. Again, with no research experience I have no publications, no history of attending conferences and no published books.  Fingers crossed this year sees me at least publish a journal article
  4. Everyone on the twitter sphere who is a PhD student appears to be so stressed, busy and frantically meeting deadlines.  This makes me deeply concerned for my lack of stress.  I’m cautiously waiting for those moments where I’m slammed and my supervisors are riding my back to meet deadlines so I can feel so important.  I’m almost 12 months into starting my PhD and to be honest, it’s gone very smoothly thus far.  I feel disappointed that I’m not more stressed and that I’m not feeling more pressure. This makes me feel like I’m doing it all wrong and someone’s going to pop up one day  to tell me I am failing and need to go back to kindergarten (maybe one of my reoccurring nightmares)

There are times I feel more stressed by what other people are doing than what I should be doing.  At these moments, I take a bit of a social media break and give myself some positive self talk – “you can do it”, “don’t worry about what others are doing”, “someone will tell you if you’re failing”, “just fake it ’til you make it”, “you don’t want to be one of those self-important people”, “they are so boring anyway”.

My mantra for the week: Don’t let comparison steal your joy

Reaching for the achievable

The motivation to start a PhD is often driven by curiosity, idealism and optimism and this was certainly the case for me.  My initial ideas and dreams were big and my goals were lofty.  Why would you pursue a long and tedious PhD without a big juicy carrot dangling in front of you?

There was a certain point when I realised that running fast toward the dangling carrot doesn’t mean you’ll ever reach it.  The more I prepared, planned and dreamt the more I saw these big boulders in the way that weren’t budging.  The realist in me started to talk the optimist out of our big dreams.  It was a sad day when I accepted that I should be reaching for the achievable not the carrot.

Full of resignation, it is up to me to focus on what is both realistic and achievable.  Perhaps I can lay the groundwork so that the next researcher can step closer to the carrot.  I should be happy to contribute to the world of evidence but instead I feel a little bit like a….. hungry donkey 😉


Fake it ’til you make it

As a newbie researcher, I wonder if ignorance is bliss.  In my first 7 months as a PhD student, I was able to develop a research proposal, submit an ethics application and have it approved and conduct a study in Nepal.  I’m not exactly sure how I pulled this off and my unrealistic expectations magically seemed to work out in the end.

Conducting research is the pursuit of new knowledge.  I think what makes it interesting is the challenge of journeying through unchartered territory.  In this pursuit, you push yourself into doing new things and discovering new ideas.  I have this overwhelming sense that I have no idea what I’m doing but I wonder if this is part of process.  Being completely familiar and confident in your study material may seem redundant and boring.

One thing I’m getting very good at is ‘faking’ my expertise and knowledge.  People give me way more credit than I feel qualified to receive but who wants to be one of those egotistical academics anyway.  My mantra of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ is serving me well thus far and I hope I never reach that moment of feeling overly confident and familiar.

Doing an ultrasound on one of my participants in Nepal

You’re only as good as those who support you

I have just completed my first field work project in Nepal for my PhD.  It went surprisingly well considering I have no experience in conducting research.  It quickly became apparent that my success can be entirely credited to my awesome local research assistant.  She had conducted research before and project managed many events in Nepal and brought so much experience and insight to my study.

It also became obvious that my initial concepts and ideas, which were concocted in my office in Sydney, were not appropriate or applicable in the Nepali context.  While this was a learning experience for me, my research assistant new how to shape things to allow interesting information and data to be collected.

While the results of this study are far from what I anticipated, it has been such a rewarding and insightful experience.  I know that I’ve collected interesting information that will still be useful in my PhD journey.

My one piece of advice for other researchers is to surround yourself with knowledgeable and experienced people and learn everything you can from them 🙂



When the stars align

Being able to work with women in a developing country has been a long time dream of mine that I thought would never become a reality.  I may have verbalised this dream a few times knowing that it was more a fantasy rather than an attainable goal.  Never did I imagine this dream would come true!

It’s such a magical thing when your life starts unfolding in a way that follows your truth.  What may start as an initial chance meeting ends up connecting many dots and lining up in a way that you could never intentionally orchestrate.  People come out of the woodwork who are as excited about your dreams as you are.  They are eager to help and connect you with others who share the same vision.

Following a dream can be scary and it is often our fear that stops us from identifying and pursuing our deepest heart desires.  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if people criticise my ideas? What if I end up broke and unemployed?  These are real fears but are often unfounded.

When you commit to jumping in and following your dreams there is an immense sense of joy.  Over the past year I have had many moments when I pinch myself to make sure it’s all real.  This deep sense of happiness makes my heart feel full, like it might explode.   This happy energy radiates through all aspects of your life and other people can feel it too.  I have had so many people tell me that I look so happy.

Taking a risk on my dream has opened up so many doors and opportunities.  Other people see that you are dedicated and passionate and they want to be apart of that journey.  I quit a stable job without any future employment planned but now have too many job offers.  This allows me to pick and choose the terms of my employment so it suits me.  I’m now wondering why I didn’t do this years ago!

I may be in the honeymoon phase of my PhD where everything is cupcakes and roses but I hope this feeling lasts.  I encourage everyone to look deep into their heart and find what truly makes their soul happy.  I believe that when we follow those dreams, the stars will align and magic starts to happen IMG_0401

Conducting research in a developing country

I must say that I’m on a rather steep learning curve and am holding on for dear life. Even in the infantile stage of my research, I have hit a few speed bumps and curve balls and am starting to feel a little jostled. Conducting research in Nepal fulfils the dreamer in me but my brain is starting to wonder if this was such a great idea.

In regards to conducting research in a developing country, here’s a few things that I’ve learnt thus far:

1. One must be fluid…. liquid, water, pepsi, wine… whatever… just fluid. While I am a determined planner, I am learning that things don’t always work out per spreadsheet outline. Timelines, locations, participants and study goals all morph into something hardly recognisable from one’s initial ideas. While this is frustrating and annoying, you won’t get anywhere trying to swim upstream. If you go with the flow, things often work out in the end.

2. Let go of your ego. I had this great initial research idea which everyone told me was very important work. As I started to plan and complete the ethics application, I was struck with so many barriers and obstacles. I was getting so upset that my amazing idea just wasn’t working out. As I slowly started letting go of my idea, a few other possibilities were presented to me. These ideas were realistic and manageable BUT they’re not as good as mine! I had to swallow my pride and let go of my ego to allow myself to be open to other possibilities. Even though I was reluctant to take on new ideas initially, I can see they are still going to be great.

3. Ask and ask again and then don’t believe the answer. Communicating with people in Nepal can be challenging. I have learnt to only ask 1-2 questions per email as this is how many answers I’ll receive back. It could take 1-2 weeks to receive a response, sometimes never hearing back at all. On important matters, don’t be satisfied only asking one person for information. I had asked several people about who I should be submitting my ethics application to and even then I received the wrong answer. This ended up changing my research dramatically. A lady I’m working with once told me to ask 5 different people a question to try and determine the most accurate answer.

4. Stop stressing. I am learning that people in Nepal have such a relaxed way of doing life. There are still so many unknowns in my research planning and when I push for answers I often am faced with responses such as “we’ll figure it out on the day”… eek! Not my style of planning at all and tends to stress me out. So many things can go wrong with that attitude but, maybe things could work out without drama or stress?! I’ll keep you posted on how it works out 🙂

These are the things I have learnt and are fast becoming my daily mantra: Be fluid, no ego, keep asking and stop stressing…


My thesis in emojis

Did you know that to do a PhD you have to be super smart?  Like Einstein smart.  Yep, this is totally true, if it’s OPPOSITES DAY!!

Another thing you may not realise is that, as a PhD student, you have to take yourself very very seriously…

In light of these totally made up facts, I will prove both my intelligence and seriousness by describing my thesis entirely with emojis. Here we go:

So, can you figure out what it’s all about? 😜

Hey list maker 

I love making lists. The best part of my research process is planning out my week. On my super cute kikki-k stationary, I write out my weekly and daily tasks. Even better than writing the list is checking items off:

  • Read 4 articles CHECK
  • Finish ethics application CHECK
  • Email supervisors YEP

Sometimes, my love for checking off items sways my to do list. You may find a few items like:

  • Make a cup of tea DONE
  • Do 10 squats LATER
  • Muse about becoming a Dame one day (Dame Delena sounds pretty rad aye?) ALWAYS 🤓

My love for list making even makes an appearance in my sleep. I have been a notorious sleep talker and walker my whole life. Most people who know me have a story about my nocturnal shananigans. So, this one time while I was asleep, in the middle of the night, I wrote myself an all important list. Here it is:

Writing lists in my sleep
Writing lists in my sleep

All the important things to consider when one is conducting research 🤔

So, I may spend way too much time planning and writing my lists instead of actually doing real work. The thing is, sometimes it feels like a PhD is a huge sand dune. Trying to climb it takes a huge effort and sometimes it feels like you just keep sliding back down and not making any progress. There is great satisfaction in making a list and checking things off. I think this is important to maintain ones sanity

List maker

Confession time

As a kid and the baby of the family, I quickly perfected the art of getting out of undesirable tasks (in the most endearing way possible 😉 )  I had this sneaky trick of pretending to sleep to get out of doing all kinds of challenging ordeals a kid faces on a daily basis.  An afternoon nap could effortlessly replace such things as doing chores, practicing the piano or merely having to physically walk from the couch all the way to bed (how great is it being carried to bed haha).

Now a full-grown woman, pretending to sleep just feels so…. juvenile.  I’ve had to step up and actually do the dishes and make my bed.  It’s tough being an adult and at times I wonder if I pretended to be dead would it get me out of cleaning the bathroom??  Worth a try maybe…

Since starting my Phd, I have now found my new ‘pretending to sleep’ trick which has now become ‘working on my research’.  I’m still pretty keen and motivated and actually do take every little opportunity to spend time on my study.  Perhaps this keenness will fade in time but for now it’s a joy to spend time in my office.

I fully acknowledge how awesome my husband is and how he is far more domesticated than myself.  I am a lucky gal to have a househusband supporting my academic pursuits.  Although, if I am 100% honest, I must confess, sometimes I go and ‘study’ to get out of doing the dishes!!  Please don’t tell him I’m actually trolling Twitter and Pinterest 😉  #sorrynotsorry

What do you mean, I have to do the dishes?
What do you mean, I have to do the dishes?

In the beginning….

So, I’ve recently embarked on this crazy adventure called a PhD.  In all my naivety, I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into.  I guess the optimist in me just thinks it’ll all work itself out in the end.

I was lucky enough to stumble across a MOOC put on by ANU and facilitated by Inger Mewburn, called How to Survive Your PhD.  This course turned out to be the greatest thing for a newbie researcher like myself.  It went through all the emotions that arise from undertaking research and how to best handle them.

There are so many great resources online for researchers, the tricky thing is juggling how much time to spend reading about all the great resources or actually just doing my research…