What is it about?

Embarking on a Ph.D. program is an endeavor filled with both intellectual challenges and opportunities for personal growth. Our study delves into the heart of this experience by examining 94 blog entries written by Ph.D. students from across the globe—in English, Spanish, and Korean. These blogs serve as personal diaries, providing a window into the daily lives and inner thoughts of students as they navigate the complexities of their doctoral studies. Through these narratives, we uncovered the essential elements for navigating this journey successfully: independence, resilience, a sense of purpose, and the ability to set and achieve goals. Yet, the path is not without its hardships. Students frequently discussed encountering stress, anxiety, feelings of isolation, and the constant pressure to excel. Alongside these challenges, they also offered insights into strategies for maintaining both mental and physical well-being, such as the importance of taking breaks, staying active, and reaching out for support when necessary. Interestingly, discussions about self-care and well-being were often framed in the context of enhancing productivity. It appears that taking time for rest and relaxation is frequently seen not as an end in itself but as a means to improve work output. This perspective raises important questions about the prevailing culture in academia, where the value of downtime is often assessed in terms of its contribution to academic success. This observation suggests a need to reassess how academic institutions support their students. It's essential to foster an environment where students can engage deeply with their research while also caring for their mental and physical health. Encouraging a balance between work and personal time, and recognizing the intrinsic value of well-being, is crucial for a fulfilling and sustainable doctoral journey. Our exploration into the experiences of Ph.D. students, as shared through their own words in blog posts, underscores the importance of this balanced approach.

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Why is it important?

Our study ventures into the heart of the Ph.D. journey, tapping into the rich, yet often overlooked, reservoir of blog posts written by doctoral students themselves. This approach is not just innovative—it's timely and crucial. At a moment when academic pressures are at an all-time high, and the mental well-being of Ph.D. students is becoming a pressing concern, our research offers a fresh, authentic perspective on the challenges and coping strategies of these students, directly from their own narratives. What sets our work apart is the methodological pivot from traditional, self-reported surveys to a convergent mixed methods analysis of blog posts. This shift is significant for several reasons. First, it allows us to access the unfiltered, genuine experiences of Ph.D. students across the globe (blog posts were written in English, Spanish and Korean), bringing to light the nuanced, personal accounts of their academic journey. Unlike surveys, which can be constrained by the questions asked and the respondents' self-awareness and willingness to share, blog posts offer a spontaneous, reflective account of the students' thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Furthermore, our method acknowledges the changing landscape of academic communication. Ph.D. students and early career researchers are increasingly turning to social media and blogs to share their work, seek feedback, and connect with a global community. By focusing on these platforms, our study not only leverages these modern forms of scholarship but also speaks directly to the current generation of researchers in a language and format they value and trust.


What struck me most profoundly was the dual nature of self-care as depicted in these posts: a means to sustain productivity, rather than an end in itself. This reflects a broader cultural issue within academia, where the value of personal time, hobbies, and even relationships is often measured by their contribution to work. It's a stark reminder of the need for a cultural shift within academic institutions, one that places the well-being of students at the forefront, not just as a tool for academic success. This research, for me, was a call to action. It's not enough to simply acknowledge the pressures and challenges faced by Ph.D. students. As a community, we must strive to create an environment that supports not only their academic ambitions but their mental and emotional well-being. This includes reevaluating the hidden curriculum that prioritizes productivity over health and questioning the structures that perpetuate this mindset.

Dr. Marek Urban
Institute of Psychology, Czech Academy of Sciences

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: ‘Take a break, you’ll be able to work more’: convergent mixed methods analysis of PhD students’ blog posts, Studies in Continuing Education, February 2024, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/0158037x.2024.2319806.
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