How I beat the second year blues

I’m not sure why, but I thought I would never suffer from the second year PhD blues. Despite it taking me about two years of work (including part of my MRes) to get decent results, I remained positive. Last November, I started to get particularly exciting results and it laid out a clear path to the end of my doctorate.

But a few months ago, my reactions stopped working. Endless repeat reactions and tweaks were unsuccessful; I wanted to quit. The second year blues had found me and hit me hard.

In the last few weeks I’ve managed to get everything back on track. In fact the failed reactions might have shed some light on why the reaction works so well in the first place.

For anyone else in a similar position, I think it’s most important to stay motivated. I adopted a strategy of working on my main project and easier side projects on alternate days.

I think this has several benefits. By breaking up the disappointing results with easier work, I feel happier. Dealing with negative results for weeks on end was too much for me to handle.

I maintain momentum with side projects—something I struggled with before. I see side projects as backup publications, in case my main project goes down the drain. The time I spend not thinking about the main project helps me approach it with a fresh perspective too.

I find it helpful to tell people, like my supervisor and friends, whether I’m having a “main project day” or “side project day”. This stops me taking a risk of two consecutive days on the same project.

I recommend this strategy to any struggling students. There’s no point in slogging along, miserable. At least until I submit my thesis, it’s how I will work.

First conference: any advice?

On Monday I’m going to my first conference! It’s titled Continuous Flow Technology in Industry (more detailed information here if you’re interested). I’m not presenting anything, just attending.

I came across it on a Royal Society of Chemistry mailing list and thought it’d be good as it’s quite closely related to my group’s work[^groupwork] (four of us are going). It’s relatively small in size (no parallel sessions) so I thought it’d be a reasonable choice of first conference. I hope to pick up some ideas that will help solve a few particular problems in my own work.

I’ve been wondering whether there’s anything I should do in preparation. I’ve consulted my trusty guide The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research but, aside from networking (which I’m fairly happy about), it doesn’t have that much to say on the topic unless you’re presenting.

I’ve looked up all the speakers to have a quick look at what they do, but the majority of them are from industry so they don’t have a web page summarising their work like most academics. I’ve got myself some Imperial-branded business cards.

I’m unsure whether to take my laptop. I’m leaning towards no, as I think it’s a bit rude to sit typing away (and it won’t do my hands any good either). I could always read a couple of papers if a particular speaker is really that bad.

Does anyone have any advice? Please let me know in the comments.

[^groupwork]: See this paper for my group’s most recent publication on our work on flow chemistry.