Advice for the IMDR (Incredibly Mature Doctoral Researcher) but which may be useful for all

(This post below has a few bits of additional text. Click here to my original post on the blog for the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities. Thank you to SGSAH – my funders – and Jimmy J for posting originally on the SGSAH Blog page)

I thought I might contribute to the SGSAH Blog with a few words on top tips for everyone about to start their PhD but Blog Wizard and fellow Stirling PhD doctoral researcher, Jimmy Johnson, has already covered that very well in his Ten Things I Learned in The First Year of My PhD . Perhaps I can focus on the experience of the older PhD doctoral researcher, I wondered. Well, here we are. Here are my Top Six Tips for the IMDR embarking on Year One. Alert: the tips are heavily influenced by my own perspective. Some of the advice should be regarded as tongue in cheek. Hopefully, the real pointers are clear.    

  1. Claim Any Room/Space In Your Home:

If you have a grown-up child and they have moved out to start their own university adventure in another place, take charge of that room/space now. Style it in a manner befitting a *PhD doctoral researcher. Remove the decrepit bananas, mugs of penicillin, and the stuff you can’t quite identify (it’s been 10 years since you last crossed the threshold, after all). Sweep aside the old Harry Potters, the Dr Seuss, and the dinosaurs in space stories from the book cases. Keep your Batman graphic novels – which seem to have gravitated to their room – and their Manga books, of course. Install the books which you think will be useful to your study but leave plenty of empty shelves as you will fill them with all the unlimited books you can borrow from your University’s library – true joy!

* Yes, that’s you. Experienced academic professionals believe that you and your research are worthy of investment. You must get used to this idea. 

  • Magnetic Board:

Put up a magnetic board. Type the title of your thesis and all the reasons why you are inspired to research it. Stick it on the board. You won’t believe this now as you are bursting with positivity and eager energy, but there will be times when you need to remind yourself why you’ve chosen this path. Once reminded, you will be energised once more. 

  • Time For Your Old And New Passions:

You’ve probably gathered a lot of people over the years – a partner, children, friends, you may still have even more mature parents around. You may be starting a new life without a partner or with a new one. You could find it very difficult to balance your new life as an independent worker with your current way of life. Hold onto the relationships you’ve enjoyed for decades while you build new ones. It’s important that you meet with your new PhD colleagues regularly to create a supportive PhD family. Make space for doing the things which help you lose track of time. For me, that’s reading, photography, and creative writing. If you volunteer already, aim to continue at a reduced level. I volunteer with a book festival Tidelines Book Festival and the Scottish Independence Convention.  As all the advice says, you are more than your PhD although people may focus on it. Keep up or begin yoga, kick-boxing, tai chi, walking football, ballet, or Tough Mudders. Meditate positively on what you’ve achieved over your lifetime to date and what achievements are ahead. Do not beat yourself up if you don’t create that perfect balance. We know that whatever our age, juggling is simply part of life.

  • Embrace Opportunities:

As an IMDR, you should have useful life skills, general and specific experiences which are transferable. Don’t stay in the shadows because you imagine opportunities to participate in conference or workshop organisation should be for younger doctoral researchers only. You will learn from them and they will learn from you. Read up on all the opportunities to study and research abroad and apply for them. These once in a lifetime opportunities are for you, too.

  • Ask For Help And Advice Quickly:

New experiences and tasks may trigger memories from decades ago which were well-tucked away under blankets in locked metal trunks. When all the walking and meditating in the world isn’t helping, as soon as you experience flashbacks and/or anxiety, email your university counselling service and ask for an appointment. You may think that you are taking up counselling time best spent on those younger than you or that speaking about how ancient history is affecting you now is self-indulgent. Do not believe that voice. Make the appointment. Have that chat.

  • Pat On The Back:

Remember to reward yourself for every milestone passed, small or large. When I passed my Initial Period Review, my rewards included a fountain pen, ear ‘decorations’, books, and an evening with friends in Oran Mor. Remember to celebrate all progress made.

And finally, folks!  If you are in your fifth, sixth, seventh decade or more, you may feel as if you are regressing to a younger you. Relax and go with it. The younger you has been inside all those years. It’s time to allow it to blossom again. Crop and dye your hair or grow it long and grey. Get that tattoo (consider temporary as you know you will change your mind). Put things on your ears. Dig out that old Smiths T-shirt. Write, play music, sing, and write some more. Let’s enjoy our newfound energy and passions! 

Morven is a second year doctoral researcher at the University of Stirling, researching the negotiation of authenticity in 21st Century book publishing. She spent most of her working life in advertising and marketing. Currently, she is in her fifth decade. 

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