Let's Talk"Let's Talk" is a project that supports PhD students on their journey and offers a simple but most effective service: a chat with a peer.
Dear readers, we would like to present you "Let's Talk PhD", an incredibly friendly and warm-hearted project that offers something simple but most effective: a chat with a peer. We have asked Vera, Elina and Leo, the initiators of the project, about what exactly they offer and why they do it.
Welcome! To begin with, could you briefly tell us who you are?
Hello! We are Elina, Vera and Leo, and we’re here to talk about supporting PhD candidates. We are a group of friends and early career researchers who, earlier in 2019, created the project “Let’s Talk – PhD Support”. Our aim is to lend a friendly ear and practical advice to PhD students. Drawing on experiences from our own PhD lives, we provide something that may sound simple, but which can go a long way: the chance to talk it out! Let’s talk about procrastination and confusion, time pressure and issues with supervisors, that review that really didn’t seem fair to you, personal problems along the PhD journey, fear, doubts, the impostor syndrome… in short, all the uncomfortable stuff we go through during our dissertation project – because not everyone has someone they can talk to who will listen.
[What is the story of "Let’s Talk"? Why did you decide to initiate this project?
We all completed our PhDs within the past two years at the University of Hamburg, and that is also where we met. Our fields of research are quite different: they stretch from ocean and climate physics to meteorology, social geography and fisheries science. What we had in common when we met, though, was that we all struggled in one way or another with the PhD process. There were conflicts with the supervisors, writer's blocks, lack of motivation or purpose, general confusion, and even phases of depression. And what got us through it all? In retrospect, we would all say: talking. Talking about it with each other, with our families, with colleagues, hey, even with strangers on the bus sometimes! The saying “A problem shared is a problem halved” might often sound polemic; in the PhD phase, however, we all agree that it hits home. A colleague once said to me: “You know, Vera, it’s simple. During my PhD, I had people who gave me advice; but as they were already further along in their careers, I could not return the favour to them. All I can do instead is pass it on to the next generation.” And that’s exactly what we want to do with “Let’s Talk”!
Give us some examples. What are the problems that PhD students could talk to you about?
Basically anything. Our idea is that you can come and talk to us when you’ve got no one else to talk to. We were all extremely lucky to have people around who would listen patiently and give advice – but we are aware that not everyone has these people. Not everyone has someone in their research group with whom they can talk in confidence. Or maybe you don’t want to turn to an official university service with your problem because you don’t want to open up “on the record”. We are happy to speak with you about self- and time management, overcoming procrastination, anxiety and nervousness, presentation skills, making schedules and sticking to them, problems with your supervisor, thoughts of quitting, the general frustration that academic life can bring…. And let’s not forget the culture shock that international students often face in addition to the pressure of the PhD. Essentially, we are happy to speak to you about all those “touchy-feely” things that aren’t addressed in professional meetings with your supervisor or other university staff. And most importantly: we assure you that our conversations are confidential, informal, that we’ll be patient, and we won’t judge you! We are not trained professionals in psychology or counselling, but we will share our own experiences with you and, together with you, talk about solutions and possible ways forward.
And how do you think your project will help people to get through their PhDs?
Well, we all survived our PhDs. By now, we have moved on to the postdoc stage and spread out thematically and geographically. Elina will soon begin a 1-year research appointment at University of Reading where she will contribute to the establishment of early-warning systems for tropical cyclones. Vera transitioned from geography to marine social science, coordinating stakeholder engagement in an EU project on sustainable fisheries management at the University of Hamburg. I am on the move to Paris, where I will work on developing a climate prediction system for Europe for the next two years. What remains, however, is our friendship and the fact that we talk a lot: about our jobs, the challenges we face, what goes right and wrong, and where we might want to go in life. And although we left the PhD phase behind, we remember the struggles well. And we still are grateful for every person who supported us on our journey by sharing one of the basic tools of human communication with us: talking, listening, and giving advice. We know how tremendously important it is to have someone to talk to. And although we won’t solve anyone’s problems overnight, we believe that this dialogue can really alleviate much of the pressure of the PhD process. It can make the difference between giving up and pushing through. And we’d like to be a factor in what makes people push through and then when it’s done, be so proud of themselves!