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17 Things Only PhD Students Would Understand

17 Things Only PhD Students Would Understand

No mater what topic you’re researching, there are a few things that many PhD students have in common. Some good, some bad, some downright ugly. How many of these sound familiar?

1. You feel like an imposter all the time

PhDs are something that clever people do. You spend the first few months thinking you’ll start to feel like one of those clever people soon… But you’ll soon realise it never happens and you worry that on graduation day they’ll finally catch you out and refuse to award you your doctorate.

2. You worry that your students will outsmart you

If you wind up teaching undergraduates, you worry that you’ll get a super smart one who knows way more than you do. You practice ‘looking clever’ in the hope that they’ll fall for it. You’re not sure they will…

3. Sometimes you read what you’ve written and find you’re in awe of yourself

You’re constantly in awe of all those amazing academics around you – and sometimes you even find yourself in awe of you! Reading back old papers you’ve written, you find yourself nodding in agreement with the wise sage who wrote them and thinking they sound like they were written by someone really, really clever rather than little old you.

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4. You are addicted to studying

You love to learn. You can’t get enough of it and find yourself wondering what you will study next when you’ve completed your PhD. You’ve been contemplating what your next academic endeavour should be since you were about two months into your PhD.

5. When your research is going well, you get so engrossed you practically forget to draw breath

Eating and sleeping don’t really happen. You don’t hear anything around you, you’re in the research zone and nothing else matters.

6. You go through nocturnal periods

You end up in weird wake–sleep cycles of staying up really late because you’re so hooked on your work, only to crash out and sleep as the rest of the world is ready to start a new day. This cycle can last for weeks at a time.

7. You dream about your research

Especially during your more intense studying periods, you think about your research all day and all night. Occasionally you make amazing discoveries in your sleep and are hugely disappointed when you wake up and discover your discoveries were all just a dream.

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8. You are more likely to quote papers written by people with memorable names

When people have really complicated names that you find hard to spell or remember, you find yourself quoting them less. Consequently you find yourself worrying about how memorable your own name is and whether you should rebrand yourself to maximise your impact factor.

9. You know where all the cheapest coffee shops are

You’re living on a super skinny budget but you need coffee and you need to escape the lab or library pretty regularly or you’d grow hysterical so you head out for coffee. You know where to find the best, cheapest coffee. You don’t go anywhere without your coffee shop loyalty cards and you work your day around coffee happy hour.

10. You know exactly where all electrical outlets are located in all the cheapest coffee shops

Once you’ve arrived at your favourite coffee shop, you head straight to the seat where it’s not too noisy, there’s plenty of natural light and there’s a socket to plug in your computer. You know exactly where this perfect spot is located in at least three different coffee shops.

11. You know more than anyone in the world about one teeny tiny thing…

When it comes to your research niche you know more about it than anyone else the entire world. That’s really kind of cool.

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12. …But you’re the only person who cares about that teeny tiny thing

So no one else cares about this teeny tiny niche you know inside out and upside down. You discover this every time you try to talk to anyone about it. Most people just look overwhelmed and under-excited whilst some people look outright bored.

13. You bore even yourself sometimes

You’re pretty sure that by the time you’ve finished writing your thesis, you’ll never EVER want to talk about your research topic ever again.

14. You get really excited if your research topic is even tangentially relevant in every day life

It doesn’t happen often, but the once or twice in your entire life that you feel your teeny tiny research niche is relevant to every day conversation, you feel like the king of the world.

15. Your idea of fame is being quoted in New Scientist

Or the equivalent for your subject. You dream about it happening some far off day when you’re really clever and well published and everyone is hanging off your every word. It could happen…

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16. You can’t wait to be called ‘Doctor’

You’ve secretly rehearsed calling yourself doctor. You tell everyone you’re not doing a PhD for the title or credentials but rather because you are deeply passionate about your subject. But as the end draws closer you cannot wait to be called doctor and will insist that absolutely everyone uses your proper title – and rightly so. You earned it!

17. You have no idea where your life is headed

You dream of graduating but you have literally no idea what happens next. You figure that you’ll work out what you want to do when you grow up at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Featured photo credit: MacBook Pro by VFS Digital Design via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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