Coke float drinking pocket rocket, planetary scientist, presenter, space comedienne

Why doing a PhD is, quite literally, bad for you.

So I’ve been doing a PhD for a bit over 4 years now (sshhh don’t tell anyone I’ve gone over) and its becoming more and more obvious that rather than being beneficial for your brain and life, PhDs are simply bad for your health.

In the past four years I’ve caught a cold more times than in my previous 25 years of life. Mum and Dad reckon that’s because I’ve been making regular trips oop Norf to bug-ridden Preston to visit my now-fiancé (yay I’m engaged!) but I know that the real reason is because my immune system is way down low to allow for my brain to work correctly, meaning that every time I feel just a whisper of a cold I end up in bed for two days solid.  Nothing to do with procrastination (shirking) from the thesis I swear.

Another thing that is failing, like that little old farmer in the SpecSavers advert who shears the wrong sheep aka his dog, is my eyesight. One night a few months ago I’d worked til about 4am then woke up the next day at about 9ish to carry on. My eyes felt a bit puffy so I raced to my magnifying mirror only to see that the cornea of my left eye was seemingly coming undone and flapping over my pupil. I frantically called my sister, a GP, and told her with shock and awe, “My left cornea is falling out!”. Sadly she told me that that simply wasn’t possible, but that perhaps I should go to the opticians just in case. I raced down the road to my local optician, who however wasn’t my optician, and asked for an emergency appointment. This is when looking super young does me a favour, as the receptionist clearly thought she had a panicking teenager in her midst and let me in to see the optician right away. He did a thorough exam and told me that I had “sceleritis”, an inflammation of the cornea due to tiredness, dry eyes and stress. Guess what those were due to? Thesis writing of course! Since moving back to my parents’ house (I am no longer a funded PhD student hence I can’t afford to pay rent) my mum keeps an “eye” (geddit?!) on my working hours and hence how long I sit and stare at the computer screen. Every few hours she insists that I squirt “Tears Naturale” into each eye and the sceleritis hasn’t reappeared.

Since moving back to my parents’ house, however, I also have no real desk to sit and work at so I tend to sit on a really hard dining chair or a slightly aging sofa in the tele room. I try and vary my location to keep things fresh and sometimes the dining chair is preferable (i.e. when one of the cats sits on my lap) and sometimes the sofa is preferable (i.e. when Jeremy Kyle or Loose Women is on the tele). The only problem with either of those locations is that, due to intense thesis writing, I think I’ve actually broken my bum. My back and coccyx hurt like crazy regardless of where I’m sitting. Doesn’t matter if it’s a car seat (a seat in a car, not a kiddie car seat, even I’m tall enough not to require one of those), a cinema chair, on a train or even sometimes on the loo, by the time I go to stand up I have to pull myself up on whatever is closest, or roll sideways until I can lever myself up on my knees. Writing my thesis has broken my bum!

Not to mention the RSI associated with typing all the time. It’s in my wrists, in my thumb pad, in my mouse fingers and in my ankles because I always sit with my legs crossed in the same way! In fact, the RSI has even spread to my poor laptop who can no longer accurately left-click when asked to, no matter how polite I am, due to over use.

Being so busy all the time, and having to move back home (both PhD related I hasten to add) has meant that some things in my hectic social schedule have had to give. I couldn’t stop seeing family and friends so it meant I had to give up the other hobby I had; exercise! I’m not playing hockey right now, I’m lucky if I go running once a week, and although I’m still tapping it’s barely exercise when it’s dancing along to Michael Buble! I desperately miss my biweekly Body Pumping days but can’t find a new class to fit in with my single minded working day and hence, since before Christmas (it’s past Valentine’s day now) my fitness has plummeted. Walking up the stairs to my bedroom renders me into an asthmatic attack and carrying a tin of beans makes the muscles in my arms ache with lactic acid. I’m trying to cling on to my fitness by starting up the exercise regime again and today I fast walked a whole 1.7 miles in my MBTs with mum.

As if the fitness debacle wasn’t enough the thesis has had the biggest effect on my belly. The curse of the dreaded thesis belly. At first I was doing really well with a controlled diet of fruit and veg and brain enhancing omega fats but now my relationship with food has just gone mad. I’ve never eaten so much junk in a bid to keep awake/have a break/procrastinate. My weight has yo-yoed and I can’t blame Christmas. My legs are jelly which is really bad because before they were huuuge muscles, my bingo wings might actually give me liftoff soon and my bum is spreading from sitting on it to type all day, not to mention the cellulite. Someone actually asked me if I was pregnant the other week (I swore it was just my poor posture, another thesis-related issue). I dare not step on to the scales right now, and have given up almost everything naughty for Lent even though I’m Hindu in a last ditch desperate attempt to regain my lovely size ten curvy toned figure.

If only I could maintain a wedding diet. I’m googling diet pills as I type 😉

I could go on a lot longer, but the weight in my chipolata fingers is slowing me down and the RSI in my thumb pad is starting to flare.


One response

  1. Mick morrison

    It gets worse if you go on to an a academic career, sadly. Long hours, unrelenting workloads and high stress levels as early career people (like myself) kill themselves trying to secure a longer term contract, postdoc., etc. Try and find a peaceful spot amongst the madness and chaos, you need it in this line of work.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:21 pm

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