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BLOG: Life has no respect for GANTT charts - by Sandra Bartolomeu Pires

OK, I cheated. I was supposed to write yearly so that you could keep track of my PhD journey, but I kept telling myself I would only write again when I had submitted for Ethics – well, that took ages. I think I may have calculated 3 months or so to prepare Ethics for my first study.

Ah, to be young again (long sigh).

Young Sandra knew so little! That’s one of the things you need to know if you are starting now – everything takes a lot longer than you think, so whenever you think about timelines try doubling it (at least). Not that I had not been warned, in my first progression viva I was told my timelines were “too ambitious”, rightly so. So, after submitting my Ethics, I then was very much in a rush to submit my confirmation/second progression review report. Which of course was due between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

I had all intentions to submit earlier and have a nice quiet Christmas, but pre-school bugs had other plans and my all family got ill with some nasty stuff and, do you hear that? That is the sound of my plan for an early submission/peaceful Christmas being flushed down the toilet.

But let me go back to where I left last time, after my first Viva, feeling invincible, special, and glorious, KABOOM! “The higher you climb, the higher you fall”. Man, life happens… I did not get that CDRF funding despite great feedback from the panel (now I can see it really was for the best, hindsight is a blessing, but definitely did not take it as well then). Soon after, my grandma had a massive stroke and my ulcer opened. Like a punch is the stomach, it hurt and brought me down to the floor. With a poor prognosis, I rushed to Portugal to see her alive, with my family and a bleeding stomach.

As a baby, I lived with my mum and grandparents in the little village of Ingarnal. Actually, funny enough, I am writing to you from their house. Currently, the village has a population of under 10 people (not joking).

My grandma died a month after the stroke. That was a big hit. She died once I got back to England and I wouldn’t make it back to the funeral since they bury people quickly in Portugal. I think you get the picture. Feeling sick and sad, I suspended my candidature to recover from my grief and my souvenir ulcer. I tell you what, therapy isn’t cheap (another PhD lesson?).

So, after 3 months off studies but sort of working when I “felt” like it, taking it easy, virtual therapy, I actually took time to pause and reflect. Look at my life and think – Is this what I want for my life? Am I making the right choices? Hell, I wasn’t. Guess what, hubby and I decided that our next step was to move back to Portugal – Yes, you read that right, I live in Portugal now (no, I have not turned into a hermit). Navigating that was a roller-coaster, what a mess - I have a 5-year-old in case you forgot. But you know what, to make it just a bit worse, let’s throw COVID and Long Covid into the pan and see how you deal with that?

So that was another 3-month suspension. I went from running 5K to not even manage to walk 10 mins without sitting or feeling like I was going to pass out. Lots of anxiety, migraines, etc. If you have not read about Long Covid by now and you like horror movies, go read about it. Stuff that nightmares are made of. I was lucky, I recovered’ish.

What have I actually achieved in my second PhD year? Wrote my first manuscript, got a paper published as co-author, worked with my amazing PPI group and HD voices from the Huntington’s Disease Association and submitted my Ethics which after second round is looking good. Got invited to write a book chapter (nearly fell off my chair), did a couple of posters and have an abstract in for a conference. Went to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a PhD Summer School and learned as much as I ate – loads!! (see glamour shot below) So, you can see, up and down, just like any other life, no matter what Instagram tells you.

Main thing that I learned?

"The PhD is to be done with life. Your GANTT chart won’t show you all that is coming, so when life happens, be flexible, be kind, and do take the time to reassess. Tunnel vision is not helpful, look around."

Let’s sit tight for Year 3 (not that anyone is counting)! I wish you all the best. May you have the strength to go through the lows and the clarity to see/enjoy the highs (“the wheels on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down…”)

Here are some podcasts that can help you being kinder on yourself: “The PhD Life Raft”, “Survival of the Kindest” and “Papa PhD”, google them or find them on Spotify 😉

For more information you can contact me on my email or my Twitter @BartolomeuPires


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