Keep calm And PhD through

Maintaining your mental health and wellbeing can be difficult as you undertake postgraduate study. Pippa talks about her experience trying to understand and improve her own state of mind.

As per the prerequisite of being a PhD student, the levels of stress are heightened, especially as I enter into year 3, still with no results and also, no idea. While thinking to myself “I don’t think I can cope with this” an email pops up asking for volunteers for a wellbeing study. At this point, I was up for trying anything to make me feel a bit more positive, especially since I was just waiting around for different aspects of my project to come together.

The first thing to do was … a questionnaire. I worked my way through the questions and what does it reveal about my personality in the end? Slightly neurotic. My initial reaction was WWHHHAAAATTT!!! But then, after some deliberating with myself, I had to admit, it was pretty accurate.

The questionnaire then took me through to a list of free activities I could do to improve my wellbeing. Free!! My kind of activity.  Maybe one day I will use the gym membership I got when I started. Anyway, on top of the free activities, each activity got me an extra entry into the prize draw – free activities and potentially free stuff, the dream.

To try and help with my stress and neurotic tendencies I thought I would have a go at one of the activities. There were a variety of classes to choose from, from running, to art, to stress relief dogs. Yes – cute puppies to make your day better. But I decided to go for Yoga since experiments don’t allow me to take half an hour for puppy cuddling.

So, I went to my first yoga class.  I very quickly came to realise that I have seized up so much that even sitting with my feet straight out in front of me is near impossible. Surrounded by people touching their toes, nose almost at their knees, I am sitting upright flailing my arms in front. “But,” I think to myself, “I needed to relax, focus on your breathing Pippa”. While I try to focus on mine I can’t help but notice my neighbours’ very enthusiastic outbursts of air every few seconds. Thankfully they had a pretty good rhythm so I felt quite relaxed by the end.

Now that I have been to more sessions and I have the general moves down, I am much faster at relaxing into these sessions. It works amazingly as a mid-week pick me up, helping me through the second half of the week. I’m still not touching my toes yet, maybe one day.

I have found that having something to look forward to mid-week is really useful at giving me the boost I need to make it through the week. I would really recommend having something for yourself to enjoy at some point during the week, no matter what you are up to.

The scheme I was participating in was called the Potential advantage and for more information, you can go to their website or find them @WarwickUniPA.

To find out more about the Wellbeing support services you can go to their website here.


What helps you stay motivated and upbeat during the week? Trying a new hobby or sticking with an old favourite? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Pippa Richardson is in the third year of her PhD in neuroscience here at the University of Warwick looking in detail at proteins involved in learning and memory. You can find her on twitter @pipparichardso2.


Cover image: frogs-yoga-bank-bench-relaxed-1644949 / Alexas_fotosCC0 1.0

Image 1: frog-yoga-meadow-figure-animal-1109792 / Alexas_fotosCC0 1.0

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