Health and Wellbeing, Mental health, Student Stories, Supporting your study

Advice for my fellow PhD students

Carolyn, Postgraduate Peer Supporter, shares some key advice for postgraduate students and tells us more about the Postgraduate Peer Support group.

An old piece of advice and a lifesaving strategy for me and my work has been to “kill your darlings.” In other words, get rid of my most precious and especially self-indulgent passages for the greater good of your work.

Read how it has helped me and can help you too…

It’s not easy to ‘kill your darlings’, but it’s a miracle worker

I learnt from the Thesis Whisperer that it is worthwhile to get rid of those beautiful, but unnecessary pieces of my thesis. One of the most useful pieces of advice I learnt from the Doctoral Academy’s session on “How to Tame your PhD”, which also happens to be the title of the book by the presenter Dr. Inger Mewburn, which I am happy I bought. The author of the book is also the editor of the Thesis Whisperer blog page.

The Doctoral Academy’s training and general advice on approaching the PhD was really helpful. Advice like how to be productive and especially how to write 1000 words a day, I found fantastic to help me to get thoughts on paper.

However, once they’re down on paper, editing becomes crucial.

As I am in the writing up stages and time is running out, I have embraced the ‘kill your darling’s’ method as a means of speeding up editing and clearing clutter. It means that some of the paragraphs I spent days crafting to perfection (at least in my thinking), simply had to go.

Brutal? Yes! But it is a miracle worker. I have wasted hours trying to hold on to that passage, that sentence where I took hours to find the right word, only to admit in the end, it must go. With the mouse hovering over the cut icon, my breath held, I press.

At that point I have to take a break.  After 10 minutes of near-hyperventilation and some comfort food (chocolate cookies in particular), I go back and admittedly the chapter, passage, paragraph or sentence reads much, much better.


I feel better for ‘killing my darlings’

I find that when I kill my darlings myself, it is better for my mental state. Trust me, it is more heart-rending and debilitating when your supervisors suggest (ask) you to do it in one of those “how is this relevant?” questions. My strategy is to do so wherever I can to spare myself the agony.  It gets me accustomed to getting rid of those darlings so that when my supervisors suggests further edits, the pain is less.

At the writing of this piece, I had just cut another of my darlings.  I have got accustomed to it now.  It was a relief actually to see my conclusion coming together nicely. For the first time in…years? Or for the first time ever, perhaps?  There was a flicker of, “this feels right.” It reads clearly, I am seeing the end, I know what I am doing.  Getting rid of clutter is good.

Professional organisers will tell you, mindfulness practitioners will tell you, less is best. It goes for writing the PhD as well. To set the scene, I am eating nuts, instead of chocolate cookies, at this latest killing of a darling.


My advice to you

  1. Take a look at the Thesis Whisperer and follow @thesiswhisperer on twitter for a great range of advice designed to help research students. It has contributors from around the world and can help you to feel part of the research community.
  2. Find out about the support, funding, training and skills development you can access through the University’s Doctoral Academy
  3. Access Postgraduate Peer Support if you’d like to talk to Postgraduate students trained in basic wellbeing techniques and available to support you with finding the right balance in your study and research.


My role as a Postgraduate Peer Supporter

I’m a Postgraduate Peer Supporter, which entails facilitating regular peer support groups, for fellow PhD / postgraduate students, providing a safe space to talk to fellow students who understand the kind of challenges unique to the postgraduate experience.

This is an opportunity to share how you are feeling, to receive a listening ear and to talk about ways of coping in a non-judgmental and supportive environment. Postgraduate Peer supporters can also signpost you to further support and information if you feel you may benefit from receiving professional support from a member of staff within the Student Support Services.

Postgraduate study can be difficult and sometimes lonely and the Postgraduate Peer Support group is an informal chance to chat about things to someone who is very likely to understand how you’re feeling.

Find out more


Become a Postgraduate Peer Supporter

You could improve your leadership and employability skills, whilst doing something worthwhile to help other students.

You will receive wellbeing training to help other postgraduate students with the unique challenges of postgraduate study, whilst also learning a lot of things that will also be useful to your own wellbeing.

Find out more and apply 


More support

Find out about Postgraduate Research Support here.

Read blogs by postgraduate students involved in the Doctoral Academy 


Best wishes,

Carolyn, Postgraduate Peer Supporter and PhD Researcher (Nippon Funded, Seafarers International Research Centre, School of Social Sciences).

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