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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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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