I originally wrote this piece after taking a leave of absence in October, 2011. I had been suffering with anxiety for 3 years, and in the summer of 2011 I was diagnosed with depression by my GP. Taking a leave of absence allowed me to get perspective on my work, and my academic career. I hope it will prove useful to any other graduate students in a similar position.
Graduate life most definitely requires a health warning, especially if you’ve never been out of education (for me, its 5 years and 3 degrees of an unceasing University education and I’m still going – just!) It will come as no surprise that embarking on a research degree has been the greatest challenge to date of my academic career; the pressure to finish such a piece of work in 3 years will undoubtedly surpass any previous test of my abilities. For those feeling similar pressures from a life of perpetual scrutiny, I hope here to offer some counsel and a perspective from academic exile.
“You’re your own foremost critic” – this isn’t just a phrase people use frivolously to satiate others in distress, it’s completely true! In the past it’s been almost impossible to finish a piece of work without the thought: “I’m just not good enough”, passing through my mind. Even the most academically secure will undoubtedly at some point suffer a crisis of confidence, and this can potentially have effects that will reduce your productivity and time management. Taking time out, then, seemed the sensible option for me as I’d been assessed constantly without much respite. Naturally, the department was very supportive of my decision, which obviously made the transition to a leave of absence much easier. On the matter of support, credit is most definitely due to Sociological Studies for its friendliness – indeed, it’s one of the reasons I chose to study at Sheffield. Without this sounding like a recruitment piece for University marketing, I’m immensely indebted to the people that have given their time to help achieve perspective and the necessary focus I’ll certainly require for a research degree. It seems to me that as research students we might at times overlook the support that the University can provide – this is the characteristic reclusive attitude of your average graduate student. The University support services have been fantastic in helping me decide how I should manage my time, and informing me of the options available should I encounter difficulties – their value should not be overlooked.
A research degree – as I view it – is bewildering and unremitting in equal measure; it’s a task that shouldn’t be taken casually as it regards your full attention and utmost competence. That said, you’re not alone in this process, there are people that understand the maelstrom of the research student – not least your supervisors! If you need the time out, take it! As my experience confirms, there is little point in forcing yourself to work if you have neither the energy nor the intellectual ambition. Taking a leave of absence is an opportunity to catch your breath, and rest a frustrated mind – it’ll save your academic career, and your thesis!
If you’re experience something similar, then I’d urge you to speak to your supervisor(s) at the earliest opportunity. Our department boasts a group of academic, research and support staff that is quite frankly unparalleled, and they’re all willing to help you if you just ask!
Potentially useful contacts:
University of Sheffield Counselling Service
36 Wilkinson Street
0114 22 24134
Skills for Life
317 Glossop Road
0114 22 24131