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- CAREER COLUMN
- 04 July 2018
Harness the power of groups to beat the ‘PhD blues’
- Karra Harrington 0
Karra Harrington is a PhD candidate at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia.
You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar
Feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation are so common during a PhD programme that some have dubbed the experience ‘the PhD blues’. As a PhD student and practising psychologist, I wanted to try to reduce the impact of the blues on my fellow students and on me.
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Nature 559 , 143-144 (2018)
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How Moments of Mindfulness Can Thwart the PhD Blues — The Science of Mindfulness for Students
Jan 27, 2020
PhD students are six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety than the general population — that’s what a recent survey of over 2,000 graduate students found. To those of us currently on our PhD journey, perhaps this won’t come as a surprise.
Doctoral programs can be isolating and leave students feeling disconnected from the end-users of their research. Graduate students are subject to tough criticism on all sides, whether it be from advisors, the review process, or examiners. And the stress doesn’t let up upon graduation. The competition for entry-level academic roles has intensified, with positions becoming few and far between around the globe.
In light of these pressures, it’s hardly any wonder that doctoral programs are taking such a toll on mental health. But what can students do to avoid coming down with the PhD blues?
Well, new findings suggest that a solution may lie in the simple everyday practice of mindfulness.
Interested in group workshops, cohort-courses and a free PhD learning & support community?
The team behind The PhD Proofreaders have launched The PhD People, a free learning and community platform for PhD students. Connect, share and learn with other students, and boost your skills with cohort-based workshops and courses.
What is mindfulness.
The word ‘mindfulness’ gets thrown around a lot. If you’re anything like me, perhaps the word conjures up images of robed monks tossing out all their possessions and humming on a mountain top.
But what exactly is mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is a state characterised by non-judgmental awareness and experience of the present moment .
Let’s break that down.
First off, most tend to think of mindfulness as a state. This means that the experience is a temporary condition. While some people may find it easier to slip into a state of mindfulness (suggestive of high trait mindfulness), most can develop the skill of mindfulness with a bit of practice.
Secondly, those who are experiencing a state of mindfulness are directing their attention to an experience in the present moment. Put simply, this means that you are focusing on one of your five senses.
As an example, ask yourself the following question: What do you typically think about when you’re driving to campus?
Is it the feeling of the steering wheel beneath your palms? The red hue of the traffic lights?
Chances are, you’re thinking about what you’ll do when you reach the office or belting out a pop song as you avoid making eye contact with the guy behind you.
Someone driving mindfully, on the other hand, would be observing the vibrations of the car, enjoying the scent of their new air freshener, or noticing the colours of the cars around them. The difference is that when you’re doing something mindfully, secondary activities (e.g. singing badly) take a back seat. When thoughts begin to wander, attention is brought back to an experience in the present moment, such as a sensation, smell, or sight.
Now, a common misconception about mindfulness is that if your mind wanders, you’re doing it wrong. This isn’t true, and it’s why the third aspect of mindfulness — the non-judgmental part — is so important.
It is perfectly natural for our minds to wander when we’re practising mindfulness, and it’s important not to be critical of ourselves when they do. The trick is to simply observe that your mind has wandered away from the present moment and not get hung up on the content of your thoughts. Instead, you return your attention to one of those five senses we talked about.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Your PhD Thesis. On one page.
Practising mindfulness will make you a happier, more productive phd student.
Mindfulness has been shown to enhance mood, positive coping behaviours and self-confidence, as well as feelings of hope and resilience. It’s also been shown to improve quality of sleep, and who doesn’t feel happier after a good night’s rest?
Health studies have also found that mindfulness can reduce depression, anxiety and stress (indicated by cortisol levels) while strengthening the body’s immune response.
So, practising mindfulness can help you combat the PhD blues and guard you against physical and mental illness. But how will it make you more productive?
Early findings suggest that mindfulness may offer a professional boost in a host of different ways. For instance, some suggest that mindfulness can improve concentration, interpersonal functioning, and allow you to recognise opportunities in your environment better.
When we drill down, the evidence is clear. When you practise focusing attention through mindfulness, you’re training your brain to focus better when you’re on-task.
Daily Mindfulness for Students
Now, I already know what you’re thinking.
“That all sounds nice. But my advisor wants to see my revisions by tomorrow, and I’ve eaten nothing but instant noodles for a week.”
I get it. You don’t have time, and you’ve got bigger things on your plate.
But here’s the good news.
Weaving moments of mindfulness into your existing schedule can actually be pretty easy and doesn’t need to take up time.
Here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Mindfully drink your first coffee of the day. Smell the aroma.
- Feel the warmth of the mug and the brew on your tongue.
- When you’re in the office, pause and notice the sounds around you — the tapping of keys, the clicking of your mouse.
- Take a mindful lunch break.
- Eat in silence and appreciate the textures and flavours of your food.
- Bathroom routines are great opportunities for mindfulness.
- When you get home at the end of the day, pay attention to how soaps and washcloths feel against your skin.
More Mindfulness Resources for Students
Not feeling terribly zen?
That’s okay. Here are some more resources to get you on your mindful way.
Try Insight Timer for a library of free meditations or apps like Calm or Headspace , both of which offer free trials.
You’ll find plenty of books on the market, offering suggestions for integrating mindfulness into your routine. 10-Minute Mindfulness and Practicing Mindfulness are great ones to start with, and both are available to purchase as audiobooks (for if you’re super busy).
Group Meditation Classes
Try searching the programs of your local health clubs and recreation centres. Many cities have groups that meet up to do mindfulness meditations under the guidance of an instructor.
Remember, any experience that activates one of your five senses is an opportunity to carve out a mindful moment in your day. Try identifying one or two opportunities for a mindful moment and let us know how you get on in the comments!
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Dealing with PhD Blues
As a dual-degree MD/PhD student I spent two years in the medical school doing classroom learning, now I’m in the lab trying to get a PhD, and then in a few years I’ll return for the last two years of medical school and work in the hospital. In this process, I’ve heard a lot about the hectic transition back to medical school: the early hours, the scary doctors, but I never really heard about the transition into graduate school. I took to Bitesize Bio to learn about some of the mechanics of grad school, but what I wasn’t prepared for was that grad school would entail such an emotional challenge.
In general, if you’re pursuing a PhD it means two things:
1) You’re driven.
2) you derive self-worth from your work..
The first is great; it takes a lot of motivation to spend long days in the lab tediously optimizing experiments. The second is dangerous. Many students enter the PhD program with no experience other than college, and while college can certainly prepare you for some aspects of a PhD program it doesn’t prepare you for the independence of PhD research. In college everything is clearly laid out, at the beginning of every semester there’s a defined syllabus with a schedule that’s set in stone; all you need to do is put your head down and hammer away.
Getting a PhD is a different beast
In graduate school there is no syllabus. You can learn when you want, what you want, and how you want, but this freedom can be a real double-edged sword. You finally have intellectual freedom, except now there are no due dates to keep you accountable. The only person keeping you accountable is yours truly, and when you fail there’s nobody to blame but yourself. During my first year of graduate school I had a hard time with this sort of freedom. Every time an experiment went wrong (a frequent occurrence for all scientists!), I questioned my sense of self-worth. If I couldn’t even conduct simple experiments, was I worthless? Was there any chance I could quit and still save face?
The reality was that these questions were overly dramatic, but at the time I was having real struggles with PhD-induced blues. Throughout that first year I learned that many other students were dealing with similar struggles, and here are the best ways we found to cope with this PhD-induced depression:
1. Read the PhD Grind
About three months into graduate school I realized I was seriously depressed. My experiments weren’t working, and I had no idea where I was going. I was second-guessing my decision to pursue a PhD, but around this time I came across Dr. Philip Guo’s memoir The Ph.D. Grind . This memoir did what good writing is supposed to do—it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. His memoir is about pursuing a PhD in computer science, but it really gets at the PhD experience as a grind, a fulfilling life experience filled with ups and downs and, is by all accounts, a great read. With the invention of the internet, the world is a much smaller place, making it easier to find people going through exactly the same problems are you—company for your misery is only a few clicks away so never feel like you are alone!
2. Develop hobbies
When you take ownership of your PhD dissertation project, it’s hard not to think about it all the time. After all, it’s your intellectual baby. But the bottom line is that you need other things to occupy your mind, pick up a new hobby: running road races, community soccer, any sort of physical activity can really hold off the PhD doldrums. If you don’t like exercise you could doodle in a notebook, write for a website, or pick up a harmonica. Just find something to keep your thoughts away from your experiments for a few hours each day.
3. Seek relationships
Entering a new environment, you’ll need new peers to fill your social circles. You’ll be holed up with your labmates doing science for most of the day, but connecting with coworkers outside of work can be refreshing. There’s a bar across the street from our campus where a couple labmates and I would often go for happy hour to complain about failed experiments. If bars aren’t your thing, why not set up a standing lunch or dinner date with some colleagues instead. The main thing is to have shoulders to lean on when times are tough!
4. Get involved in the lab
It’s intimidating to join a new lab where everyone knows more than you, but you have to get involved. Dabble in as many projects as possible. Dive headfirst into one project you love. It really doesn’t matter. Just get active in the workplace and stay as active as you can. The more you sit around and mope the more you’ll struggle.
5. Schedule regular time off
Science never stops. If you wanted, you could spend all your waking hours in the lab. I had a hard time drawing clear boundaries and knowing when to stop. As I adjusted throughout the course of the year, a usual work week for me looked like: five full weekdays, a half day on Saturday, and a couple hours on Sunday morning. Then, I took the rest of Sunday to go to church, spend time with my family, and try to relax. If you don’t intentionally schedule this sort of time off experiments will always come up. Your mentors will always want you to produce more data. People will always be asking you to serve on committees. Science never stops.
To recap, if you’re dealing with the PhD blues, just remember it’s completely normal and that you’re not alone. It’s notoriously a tough time for everyone! Seek help in relationships, take some time for introspection, and be as proactive as you can to take care of yourself.
How have you overcome the PhD blues? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image by Florian Simeth .
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Applied proteomics research group, maynooth university, the phd blues: what they are and how to beat them.
In light of World Mental Health Day last week, I have put together this blog to talk about the common struggles that many PhD students and graduate students face on a daily basis. Frighteningly, it has been found that 1 in 3 PhD students are more likely to have or develop a common psychiatric disorder, especially depression. 50% of PhD students will experience psychological distress. 1
I can only speak from my experience as a PhD in Biology here in Maynooth University, however I believe that a surprising amount of your post-grad experience depends on factors completely unrelated to your studies. For example: Your support network at home or amongst friends; Bad weather; Family drama; Bereavements; The quality/strength of a cup of tea; Relationship drama; Illnesses; Whether you’ve had lunch that day…and so on. It’s hard, sometimes impossible, to keep motivated when all of this is going on.
In addition, your supervisor, lab mates, fellow post-grads, your funding body (if you have one), staff in the Department and the subject of your thesis will greatly influence the environment and atmosphere of your PhD studies.
Doing a PhD takes its toll, even if you have a great supervisor and everything is going well in your personal life, the workload is extremely demanding, you’re constantly juggling your responsibilities and there seems like there’s never enough time (or energy) to get it all done.
No matter who you are, where or what you’re studying, two of the most common post-grad mental health issues are as follows:
- Imposter syndrome e.g. “I don’t deserve to be here” ;
- PhD guilt (or anxiety) e.g. [on a Saturday] “I’m not doing enough” .
Imposter syndrome is simply the belief that you are not good enough, the fact that you’ve made it to this point is a complete fluke and you will be caught out eventually. It’s a mixture of shame, sadness and, of course, fear. This self-doubt can be very debilitating, especially if things go wrong (which, in the scientific field, is pretty much inevitable). An experiment fails, or is messed up, and you immediately blame yourself, and so the downward imposter syndrome cycle continues spiralling.
‘Imposter syndrome’ is a term that was coined back in 1978 by Clance & Imes which was used to describe high-achieving women who struggled to internalise their success. 2 They found to be particularly likely to affect students.
The below quote is a perfect description of how someone suffering with imposter syndrome can feel:
“Self-declared impostors fear that eventually some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors. One women stated, “I was convinced that I would be discovered as a phony when I took my comprehensive doctoral examination. I thought the final test had come… I was shocked when my chairman told me that my answers were excellent and that my paper was one of the best he had seen in his entire career.” – Clance & Imes (1978)
As it turns out, this ‘phenomenon’, as it is sometimes described, is actually nothing of the sort and is incredibly common. Many famous, successful people have been known to experience this (Neil Armstrong, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou … the list goes on!). Ironically, even as I write this I am wondering ‘Do I feel like enough of an imposter to discuss this topic?’.
PhD guilt & anxiety
PhD anxiety permeates almost all your free time, both consciously and unconsciously. You feel bad for taking an evening or weekend off. In the back of your mind, there’s always that ever-growing list of things to do or a voice screaming at you to get back to work. Even now as I write this blog, that PhD guilt monster is shaking its head disapprovingly.
My PhD guilt/anxiety manifests in my dreams. These PhD-nightmares involve giant dog-sized queen bumblebees flying around my lab, growling at me as I try to pathetically fend them off with a tiny set of tweezers. I’ve dreamt about my parents coming into my lab while I was sleeping and thawing out all my DNA samples and throwing the degraded samples into the bin. Quite recently, I had one that Taylor Swift was registered as a PhD student in our lab and we were all very concerned about when she was going to stop touring and start writing up.
PhD guilt and anxiety might manifest in a variety of ways, but it’s important to recognise your own symptoms. Maybe you procrastinate doing the things that are hanging over your head, maybe you struggle to relax or can’t sleep, or maybe you overcompensate and work yourself into the ground.
There are many great blogs on this topic if you want to read further.
10 mental health tips for a post-grad student
Although I am only a year into my PhD, I have experienced my fair share of the debilitating effects of imposter syndrome and the PhD guilt-anxiety combo. The below tips are things I have found help me and a number of other PhD students
- Exercise and eat healthily: I know, not the most welcome piece of advice when you are up to your eyes with work and stress. However, even if its only once a week or a 15 minute walk every so often, exercise can help lift your mood, boost energy levels and put things back into perspective when overwhelmed. And a good diet never hurt anyone either (though I am also a stern believer in ‘mental health’ food…)
- Face your demons. Whether you are terrified of public speaking or are dreading beginning to write up your thesis, ignoring these issues and the fears behind them will do you no good. The more you get used to doing the thing that scares you, the easier it gets. I can’t stress this enough – even if it scares the daylights out of you, DON’T AVOID IT. It only gives the anxiety and imposter syndrome more power.
- Accept mistakes and move on. We are all human, however frustrating that is. We ALL make ‘stupid’ mistakes – it is inevitable. Own up, apologise if necessary, but forgive yourself and move on. I came across a very funny and honest blog written by Prof Daniel Bolnick about some of the stand-out mistakes of his academic career.
- Laugh it off: I’ve only completed a year of my PhD studies, but the one failproof strategy I’ve found to deal with imposter syndrome is simply to laugh at it. Laugh about it with your fellow postgrads. Be honest about it. The secret is that everybody , at a point, feels like an imposter. If we think it ridiculous that our impressive colleagues doubt themselves and their ability, chances are they think it is ridiculous of you too.
- Celebrate all your achievements, however ‘small’ they seem. You managed to get out of bed when your first alarm goes? Finished a chapter of your thesis? Got good feedback off your supervisor? Be proud of all of the little wins along the way of your PhD journey. Make a list if you have to. This also goes for fellow post-grads – cheer on others and they will cheer you on too.
- Time management: This is different for everyone. Sometimes working from home is more productive than getting to college, especially if you have a long commute. Do what is most productive for you and make sure you prioritise the things that are most beneficial to your or your studies. There are also great smartphone apps that help keep you off your phone to focus on work e.g. ( OFFTIME, Forest, Digital Detox … ).
- Write absolutely everything down, keep track of references and label & date everything. You will not remember it later. Reference as you write – you will not be able to find that paper later. Learn to use referencing software early e.g. Mendeley, Endnote. Your future self will thank you profusely.
- Don’t compare yourself to other PhDs/labs. Everybody is on their own timeline, often in completely different research areas with their own professional and personal problems. Some people have 20 papers at the end of their PhD, others might have none. Remember – it’s not a race! Focus on your own work and your own milestones.
- Work-life balance: There will be times, perhaps most of the time, where your PhD becomes the end all be all in your life. That’s okay and sometimes completely necessary. But it’s only 3-4 years long, and like anything else, it will end, eventually, and life goes on after… Or so I’ve been told! So, go see your friends, spend time with family, read a non-academic book (gasp!), binge watch that show on Netflix. Book your holidayss and staycations. When you have to, work late, but take that time off later on. Looking after yourself and taking breaks is better than burning yourself out and running yourself into the ground. Perhaps easier said than done, but true nonetheless. Never apologise for doing what you must do to look after your mental health.
- Reach out: Never suffer in silence. Talk to your lab mates, fellow post grads, your supervisor, family, friends, even Twitter (#phdchat, #academictwitter, @PhDepression). Most universities (including Maynooth University ) have free counselling services and workshops during the year. There is great support out there and you’re never alone.
Blogs: – Gradhacker – Ph.D. Life – Ph.D works – Get a Life Ph.D – Grad Resources – the Grad Student Way – PhD Comics
Podcasts: – STEMculture – 5 to Life: A PhD and Beyond – Hello PhD – Planet PhD – PhDivas – Recovering Academic – PhD (in progress) Podcast
Apps: – Tasks – Trello – Evernote – Wunderlist – Forest – OFFTIME – Digital detox – Mendeley
Mental health: – Mental Health Ireland – Aware – SpunOut – HSE mental health resources – Pieta house – Niteline : 1800 793 793 – Irish Online Counselling
Contact us here and let us know if you found any of these tips useful or if there are any tips you have to help post-grad students keep on top of their stress & imposter syndrome!
- Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy , 46 (4), 868-879.
- Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice , 15 (3), 241.
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I Cant even say how much i love this =) Well done Sarah, excellent post *-* ❤
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Beating the Long-Term Project Blues
Don't buckle under the strain of your thesis or other large endeavor! Start feeling better now with our tips.
After grad school I thought the days of sobbing over a paper I couldn’t bring myself to start were behind me. Then, last year I started a continuing education course to improve my skills in an area I had little experience in: video.
With the fun and exhilaration of acquiring new skills came a dark side I had not anticipated: a feeling of inadequacy and extreme stress the likes of which I had not had in a while. The course itself was great, but what brought on these feelings was a semester project: a short video that had to be entirely planned, filmed, and edited completely alone.
Looking back, this project really pushed me. Now that it’s done, I can see that it was a valuable experience. In the middle of it, though, I was often in a very bad mental state. I had a full-on case of “project depression”, or, more accurately, “project blues”.
The project blues are a concept inspired by the “PhD blues” described by Ümit Kennedy on the Thesis Whisperer blog . I feel that these issues are not specific to PhD students but can occur anytime someone is faced with a large project that feels overwhelming.
You might have the project blues if you are struggling with the following:
- The project has become the most important thing in your life. You no longer have any perspective. It has become part of your identity. You feel that if you fail at this project you are a failure as a person.
- Completing normal everyday activities is difficult, and you tell yourself you don’t have time to do them.
- Social isolation. You feel guilty going out and taking time away from your work, so you stay at home alone.
- A vicious cycle of procrastination followed by guilt that makes it even harder to start working.
- You engage in self-soothing behaviors more often (binge-watching Netflix, binge-eating cookie dough ice cream, etc.).
- You find less joy in other activities that you used to really like.
- Anxiety and spiraling thoughts about what might happen if you don't do a good job on your project.
These symptoms can be very similar to symptoms of depression, so especially if you’re working on a longer-term project like a thesis, it may be difficult to know if what you’re dealing with is project-specific or a larger general issue. One way to know is that you should feel better after the project is complete.
You shouldn’t always wait that long, though, so be sure to seek out a mental health professional if you’ve had a string of rough days that don’t seem to get better. Many times, your university will have counselors or psychologists you can talk to, and there’s absolutely no shame in getting assistance. Sadly, mental health issues are all too common in academia; in survey results published in March 2018 , 39% of graduate students were found to be moderately to severely depressed.
If you’re “only” dealing with a case of project blues, there are a few things you can try to start feeling better and lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed:
- Perfectionists often seem to experience the worst bouts of project blues. When you’ve set the bar high, the chances of not living up to your own expectations increase. Try to trick yourself by saying that you just want to get a “C” on the paper you’re writing. My trick for my project was to tell myself that I would be happy as long as my video didn't embarrass me in front of my peers.
- Another trick is to give yourself small tasks that are easy to achieve. Tell yourself, I’m only going to write the introduction to this chapter today before class. For my video project, I would say, “I’m just going to edit the opening part of this sequence with these specific clips. I’m not going to think about audio, music, etc.” Then, once you get into the groove, you may end up doing much more than you initially planned.
- Having your materials organized and having a good process in place can help give you the confidence to keep moving forwards towards your goal a little bit at a time. For a thesis or other longer paper, using a tool like Citavi can help you keep everything in one central place so that you don't waste time searching for a study you read three months ago. You can also use the Task Planner to organize tasks relating to your reading and writing.Tools like spreadsheets, task apps, and calendars can also be useful for both academic and non-academic projects, since they help you maintain an overview of what you need to do when. Just don't get down if you're not meeting your goals at the exact time you wrote in your planning tool. Realize that you'll have to readjust as you go.
- Find people who will give you the kind of support you need. This might not always be a romantic partner or family members who may be baffled as to why you are putting so much pressure on yourself. It can often be more helpful to commiserate with peers who are doing the same type of project. You’ll realize you’re not the only one who struggles with time management and self-doubt and this will help give you some perspective.
- Think of other tough times you’ve gone through in your life. Likely, you’ve already had another difficult experience in which your achievement or skills were tested. Think back to how horrible you felt and realize how little it all matters today, even if you failed at the time. Remember that many things define who you are as a person and that one assignment or one thesis isn’t the sole measure of your worth.
- While you shouldn’t use tasks like cleaning to procrastinate from doing your work, a fragile psyche is not helped by bad hygiene, a sink full of dirty dishes, or piles of unwashed clothes. Sure, in stressful times you may not be able to take care of everything right away, but try to do at least one small daily life activity each day. This will give your mind some needed time to wander and you will hopefully feel a sense of accomplishment from completing something, even if you still have months of thesis writing ahead of you.
- Exercise or go for walks if you can. To be honest, I did not do this, but in hindsight I wish I had. Movement releases tension and can clear your head.
- Be kind to yourself. If a family member or partner were having the same issue, what advice would you give them? Recognize also that the work you are doing is part of the learning process. If it’s the first time you’re writing a longer paper or conducting your own research, it’s likely not going to be perfect, but the experience alone will help you do better in the future. Also realize that it’s not a weakness to ask for help. Your advisor or professor can assist you with solutions to problems that you might never have thought of on your own.
- Although it may sometimes seem impossible, try to enjoy the process. If you can re-connect to what drew you to your project in the first place, your curiosity and interest might help you counteract some of the negativity. Take a moment to appreciate a paragraph you’ve written particularly well. Tweet a quote you liked that you came across in your reading.
- Some days nothing will help. Rather than feeling even more guilt, give yourself a break and permission to be sad. Let the negative feelings come, and cry if you need to. But then, go to bed, get up the next day, and keep doing what you can.
Please note that these are only my personal tips for dealing with the project blues. In the “For Further Reading” section below, I’ve included a few links to other blog posts I've found helpful.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts! Is there an important strategy we left out? How do you deal with the project blues? Please share your recommendations with us on our Facebook page .
For Further Reading
Hiatt, G. (2005, April 13). The 3 P’s: Perfectionism, Procrastination, and... Paralysis [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://academicladder.com/the-3-ps-perfectionism-procrastination-and-paralysis
Kennedy, Ü. (2017, May 17). PhD Depression (or just the blues?) [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://thesiswhisperer.com/2017/05/17/things-to-do-when-you-have-the-phd-blues/
Parcy, A. (2 014, March 25). Studying a PhD: Don't Suffer in Silence [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/mar/25/studying-phd-dont-suffer-in-silence-seek-support
Schwegman, J., & Golde, C. (2016, May 18). Perfectionist Gridlock: Eight Ways to Get Unstuck [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://gradlogic.org/gridlock/
About Jennifer Schultz
Jennifer Schultz is the sole American team member at Citavi, but her colleagues don’t hold that against her (usually). Supporting research interests her so much that she got a degree in it, but she also likes learning difficult languages, being out in nature, and having her nose in a book.
The Post PhD Blues
This post is written by Brian Flemming , a mathematician working as a Systems Engineer in Edinburgh. He has recently completed an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) as a mature student at Heriot Watt University, which he found an intensive and enjoyable experience, and which he credits with greatly increasing the effectiveness and authority of his work. He is now appreciating the freedom to continue studying and spend time away on the hills, without the associated “PhD-guilt” of neglecting the books …
When Brian sent me this post I could instantly relate. In fact, this blog is the outcome of my own PhD blues where I needed something meaningful, creative and interesting back in my life. I know many people who have finished and express similar sentiments. Here are Brian’s thoughts.
I’m in a different situation than most, in that the job I’m doing now is the same as before I started my thesis. In December 2008, I started working on an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) alongside my “day-job”. 1,731 days later I submitted my thesis for examination, and was immensely proud to graduate as Doctor of Engineering last June.
I had always harboured an ambition to do a PhD, but it seemed unlikely that a suitable opportunity would ever arise. Entrance to post-graduate education is increasingly competitive and expensive, and is practically inaccessible to those without some form of 3rd-party backing. One would have to be highly motivated and determined (or wealthy enough) to make the attempt otherwise. To someone like me, having already established a career, the chances of becoming a mature student seemed a pipedream. Naturally, I jumped at the chance when our universities liaison manager asked if I wanted to do an EngD. An EngD is a PhD-equivalent qualification combining technical research and study with an MBA component. Without any further prompting I came up with a project that interested me, and which was subsequently accepted by management and the university. I was in.
The four-and-a-half years or so I spent grafting away at my studies were an extraordinarily intense experience; tremendously hard work, of course, stimulating, frustrating, depressing and exhilarating in equal measure, but ultimately personally very rewarding. Passing the viva so convincingly was truly a high point. I felt on top of the world. A PhD represents a pinnacle of learning, a measure of achievement to which considerable amounts of time and effort, as well as emotional commitment, have been devoted. Who hasn’t suffered pangs of uncertainty over whether a line of research will be successful, or merely end up as a waste of time? More worryingly, will your efforts be good enough to convince the examiners that you are worthy of a doctorate? To put it bluntly, a PhD is b****y hard work and exacts a great toll on one’s character to see it through to the end. A doctorate provides status in a society that values success. No wonder the sense of triumph at the end can be so potent, and the glow of personal pride so strong.
I have to admit being disappointed in the glow of my viva success not to have received greater recognition from my employers. But, no matter how elated I was feeling personally, reality had to kick in at some point. There are plenty of PhD-level engineers working in the company, so one more wasn’t going to make much of a difference to its prospects. There’s also plenty of R&D going on elsewhere in other departments. My research interests had simply to compete for attention amongst all other claims for development funding. The first of my “post-PhD blues” is that not everyone will share your excitement at getting a PhD, or will necessarily see the same value in your research as you do. Those close to you will of course be pleased and share in your delight, but the wider world isn’t necessarily going to be bowled over by your accomplishment. In short, your hard-won sense of achievement is likely to be deflated sooner or later.
Post-PhD Blue #2 concerns the process of getting back to ordinary life after completing the PhD. Suddenly, there’s the “what-on-earth-do-I-do-now-in-the-evenings-and-at-weekends” syndrome to cope with. For three or more years you were effectively your own boss managing your thesis from inception to completion, while having to satisfy the “must-have-it-now” demands of supervisors, university departments and sponsors alike. Whatever else you’ve had to cope with, you’ve spent long hours chasing references, and agonised over the wording of every paragraph. You’ve burned copious amounts of midnight oil, and had critical ideas at the most unlikely hours. After living the “PhD-lifestyle” for so long you’ve forgotten what it is like to live an ordinary 9-to-5 existence. Instead of those heady days obsessed with papers, presentations and conferences there’s now the tedium of the weekly timesheet and management priorities to cope with. You might have hated it at the time, but you’ll gradually realise that that period in your life when you stretched your brain on the rack was a veritable paradise compared with the daily humdrum of the profit motive.
My final “post-PhD blue” is that a PhD isn’t an automatic ticket to a better life. You might expect that the doors to promotion and a higher salary would open automatically, or that there would be a sure-fire guarantee of a place on the interview shortlist. Unfortunately, life isn’t quite that easy. For one thing, you’ll likely as not be over-qualified for a large number of jobs on offer. Moreover, experience and industry-specific knowledge will often rank as high for the prospective employer as do theoretical skills and academic attainment: lack of the necessary experience can militate against the short list, no matter good you are academically. As ever, it is also still as much “who-you-know” as “what-you-know” that gets you in line for the job you want. Networking skills are still important for the post-doc, even for preferment within a company.
You might not experience any of the above and adjust to post-PhD life without any difficulty. Others might not be so fortunate. We should, of course, aim to get the best out of our hard-worn qualification whatever our circumstances. However, my experience is that a PhD/EngD is ultimately about personal fulfilment and satisfaction. Anything else is a bonus.
What do you think? Have you suffered the PhD blues? Or do you have plans on how to avoid it? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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Be aware of the post PhD blues
September 20, 2017 iscasblogadmin Articles 7
by Reuben Shamir
illustration by Yossi Ben Harush
Equipped with unexplained perennial optimism I have pursued my PhD and two postdoctoral fellowships with the goal of landing a tenure track position in a leading university. Such an opportunity never came up and broken mentally and financially, I took a job in the industry, feeling a failure and well behind. In Hebrew, crisis (MA’SHBER) also means a place to give-birth. And indeed, this crisis gave birth to new ideas and positive thoughts that totally recovered my self-acceptance and even improved my old-self.
Apparently, post PhD/post-doc blues depressed-feeling is common. I am writing this post for my fellow young researchers, before or after the crash, to flag on the iceberg ahead of you and share with my experience. Should that will help one reader it worths my public embarrassment. The readers that hold a faculty position and care about their students can find some helpful references and better prepare their students for the post PhD life.
We are scientists, so let’s start with some data. A recent review suggests that 80% of the postdoctoral fellows aim at landing a tenure track position. However, only 10% of the postdocs actually gets such an offer. That is, 70% of the postdoctoral fellows crashes on the icebergs surrounding the seemingly academic heaven.
Can you imagine a similar career-track applied for another profession? Let’s say you want to be a bus driver. You go to the bus company and they tell you “sure, but first you need to be bus driver assistant for five years under a very low income, then relocate with your family such that also your partner can not work (if you live outside the US) and continue to work on a very low income for another two to five years. Once completed, we will pick up the best driver out of the ten assistants that are starting this year! It is ridiculous. Yet, it is the situation in the academic job market. Dr. Karen Kelsky beautifully describes the awful academic job market situation in her book and blog “The Professor is In”. She also provides plenty of insights and guidance for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, which I found helpful and wholeheartedly recommend it.
During life, I have developed the ability to ignore the numbers, and I sense similar optimism in most Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows. After all, we won many battles: we knocked out 200 million fellow sperms in the race for the egg, we did very well at elementary and high school and passed many others in the competition to the prestige schools of engineering or medicine at college. We also were accepted to the graduate school and published papers in top journal and conferences that accepts only top 20% or such. Statistics do not apply to us, right? Well, it does.
That said, if a genie would have offered me to go back in time and change my decisions, I would not change a thing. The Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellowships enriched me in a way that no other job could offer. I enjoyed every moment of it. It is just the expectation of what comes afterward that were not well aligned with the reality. But if I had met such a genie, I would ask her to share with me what I have learned along the way. Here are the key observations. A Ph.D. (even a great one!) does not secure a stable work in the academy. It does not imply a higher salary; I have friends from college that earn more than I do with a BSc degree.
Over time, the research and the personal scientific profile may become part of one’s identity. Current academic culture nurture and encourage it. However, after 7-10 years, when the academic environment faded out a major part of my identity was torn off and I felt I was banned from fulfilling my destiny. This is a common experience as many blog posts confirm.
I got used to the flexible work-from-home environment where one is measured solely by productiveness and creativity. It was a shock to me that my employer actually expects me to be in the office between 9 am to 5 pm or that someone really counts the number of days I am out of the office. Apparently, most of the western world workers live like that. Yet, it can be very hard to adjust to this lifestyle after many years in the academic environment.
Post Ph.D. blues may appear in various forms but are common and real. In some cases, it may require a professional help and should not be neglected. As for myself, I recovered with time. I took a step back to revise my values and goals. I learned to recognize and deeply appreciate the precious people and positive things in my life. I picked up some new hobbies: basketball, writing, philosophy, and meditation that helped to put everything in perspective. Slowly, the optimism got back to me and new goals established.
Is it possible to prevent the post-PhD crisis? I am not 100% sure, but I have some thoughts on the subject. First, be sure that you want to do the Ph.D. or postdoctoral fellowship. The salary will be low during the studies, the work is hard and, generally speaking, will not result in improvement of your economic situation. So you need a good reason to do it. Be aware of the poor situation in the academic market and realize that these numbers apply to you as well. Be aware that your identity is affected by the academic environment. Therefore, I suggest keeping some hobbies and other routines such that your identity is tied with additional elements that are significant to you. Work hard to achieve your goals, but please – make plan B.
- The Professor is In, by Karen Kelsky, August 4, 2015
- The Postdoc Crisis, by Muhammed Z. Ahmed, in The Scientist, January 4, 2016
- The case of the disappearing postdocs, by Beryl Lieff Benderly, in Science (website), December 9, 2015
- The postdoc experience: hopes and fears, by Holly Else, in Times Higher Education, July 2, 2015
- The Stressed-Out Postdoc, by Carrie Arnold, in Science (website), Jul. 28, 2014
And of-course simple Google search for “post PhD depression” and “postdoc depression” reveals dozens of blogs that share with personal experiences on the topic.
Thanks to Ruby for the courage to say things honesty as they are! As his advisor, I can testify for his excellent work and positive attitude.
Thanks Leo 🙂
Thanks for sharing with us!
Thanks for this, much appreciated as well as needed. At the other end of the spectrum; an older artist now with an art practice based PhD…I totally agree with your words. Falling of a cliff…..missing that intense sense of purpose…it’ll take time, but I/we will get there! Good luck!
Thank you 🙂
Thank you sharing your experience; I really liked your bus driver analogy. During our PhD and postdocs we give a lot of often unrewarded effort to academia. I can now look back and say that my research definitely became part of my identity, and I did not have a plan B, so the come down when the funding dried up was hard to deal with. The reason we do it is the passion we have for our research and the sense of purpose this gives us. I often felt lost, people asking ‘have you found a job yet?’ would make me feel embarrassed, this can really affect your mental well-being. I have now started the process of revising my values and goals. There are definitely other worthwhile opportunities to be found, but it does take time to adjust.
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Ph.D. In The Blues
Ain't That A Good Thing
PhD Of The Blues
Can't Stop Loving You
No More Picking Cotton
Don't Change Lovin' Me
Where Did The Blues Go
How Can I Miss
Whole Lotta Money
Bobby G. returns with his second album, just a year after the debut.
Once again, Johnny Rawls delivers the songs (with Linda Francis as co-writer on seven of the ten original tunes) and produces.
Ph.D is the advanced degree, alright, as Bobby and the band dig even deeper into the spirit that Bobby carried with him from his Mississippi hometown of Winterville all the way to Ohio, where his career began. Cuts like "No More Picking Cotton" and "How Can I Miss" hit the soulful sweet spot between back-porch Delta get-togethers and Chicago South Side jam sessions.
(click 'Also available in iTunes store')
Digital Downloads + Merchandise
(click to enlarge)
WTJU FM says:
"After so many years after playing in jukes and just singing for his own pleasure, (Bobby) has now found a benefactor in guitarist / bluesman Johnny Rawls.
The backing is somewhat mellow but carries just enough rhythm and grit to put it over.
G’s vocals are melodic and right on the beam and match terrifically with Rawls’ playing. Fans of smooth blues and a solid groove should check this out!"
Blues Matters! says:
"This band is a musical limousine – it’s purring along, taking its time, enjoying the view, but you are acutely aware that there is probably a supercharger under the hood and they could kick it into top gear absolutely any time the mood takes them.
The final track All Night is sax-led and rounds off a superlative collection of Stax-infused blues.
The skills behind this collection are Johnny Rawls and Linda Francis who have composed these gems, and Johnny adds some background vocals, rhythm guitar and keyboards to the band sound."
The post-PhD blues
- October 25, 2018
I’ve mentioned it before, but after defending my PhD, I felt sad and experienced some “withdrawal” symptoms after being very focused on my PhD. The first paper I wrote after defending came together very slowly. I defended in June, still had until September on my PhD contract (but no project defined yet at that point), didn’t know if I’d be able to remain working for TU Delft (and fretted about it, a lot), and would only start my new job in November in Ecuador (and could pretty much do any research I wanted there, which was scary as well).
I wanted to know if my experience is in line with others, so I ran a poll. You can see the wake of this poll and the results here:
Apprenticeship in co-authoring papers
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PhD Defenses around the world: a Defense from Russia
Today, I have invited Dr. Alexandra Voronina to explain us…
[…] At the end of your PhD, you may expect to feel an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment. However, the reality for many PhD candidates is that the post-dissertation period can bring about unexpected emotions and a rollercoaster of feelings. I indeed have felt the post-dissertation blues, and I have since learned that I am not the only one. […]
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The Ph.D. Blues
By Stephen S. Pearce
- June 6, 1978
STAMFORD, Conn.— Crowded into an office, five members of my doctoral committee questioned me for two hours in a highly formalized procedure, reminiscent of a secret rite, about my “masterpiece”.— “The Ef- fect of Group Counseling on Levels of Depression Among Retired Women.” My greatest fear was that a professor's sudden inspiration to make the study more “meaningful” might sentence me to another year of relentless research.
Then, a motion for me to step outside, 10 minutes of deliberation, and finally: “Congratulations, Dr. Pearce.”
Joy, ecstasy, tears, a peak experience? No, merely numbness, and relief. I tell myself: “Look, there is a sun out there, a patient wife to love, friends who have given up calling to he rediscovered, six years of books, and movies to catch up on, boxes of unread magazines, a new tennis, racket, a diet — projects planned but never begun. Rip up that resignation from the human race—at last!”
Last year, I watched a high school graduate do cartwheels upon receiving his degree. I could understand his exultation, but frankly I am much too tired for that now—after six years of work, $15,000 and 4,500 classroom hours, 93 credits, and thousands of note cards, photocopied articles, counseling texts, administrative directives, university gobbledygook, course outlines, notes. Why have I saved this mountain? Perhaps I squirreled everything away while subconsciously’ viewing a scenario in which the degree :would never be granted, I would pile all that stuff into a U‐Haul, dump the entire load on the university lawn and set it on fire. That was not necessary, but I am still tempted to purge myself: a rite of purification to mark “The End.” At the least, there is the nagging temptation to stack everything away where it can never be found. That is how far I'd like to be from the in home and mind.
Six years of drinking and working .and sleeping my thesis could well have engendered yet another study: “The Effect of Dissertations on Graduate Students’ Levels of Depression” — a thesis within a thesis. How would have scored on the Self‐Rating Depression Scale? “I have crying spells; have trouble sleeping; I am more irritable than usual; I feel that others would be better off if I were dead.”
Depression results from spending so many years preparing a thesis and recognizing its long‐term insignificance. One sympathetic faculty mem‐. her confided that students have nei‐. ther time nor resources for significant research. “So just get the hell out of here, and when you're finished, you can do something worthwhile.”
I now understand why many doctoral students settle for the A.B.D. (all-but-dissertation) degree. A thesis is ominous; the need to create the perfect study overwhelms. Unwilling to settle for imperfection, many settle for nothing; for them, there is neither structure, nor schedule, nor pressure to finish. But for me there was one motivating thought: If dissertations were not difficult, universities would grant Ph.D.'s to everyone and the entire world would have doctorates. The obstacles make the reward a testament to stamina and tolerance for pain, fur creativity is subverted and intelligence made a stepchild to coveted goal. What is it that separates the Ph.D.'s from the A.B.D.'s? Endur-
Transformed from “Mr.” to “Dr.,” I realized that nothing had really changed, which made my energydrained brain all the more numb. I had been admitted into “The Club,” but no secret knowledge was imparted, save the faculty's ominous words: “Don't worry, depression develops in about six weeks as you wonder what to do with yourself.”
Wasn't that all left behind with the thesis? Will I he overwhelmed by loss and a new void that cannot he filled with paper? I had never imagined that depression would arise from an inability to deal with freedom.
The true maturity of the Ph.D. Is the realization that one should never un dertake a similar project. For some, the liberty of free time is abrogated, because academia forces production of papers, books and articles. In this atmosphere, academic freedom becomes a prison. Others, who seem driven by an inner force, will just never learn. After all, what am I doing here at this typewriter?
Stephen S. Pearce, rabbi of Temple Sinai, Stamford, Conn., was awarded his doctorate on June 4 from St. John's University, in Jamaica, N.Y.
For The Win
Michigan fans had to be asked to stop rushing the field after surviving Maryland
Posted: November 18, 2023 | Last updated: November 18, 2023
As if the Michigan football program hasn’t done enough to earn serious side eye this season, Wolverines fans rushed the field at Maryland on Saturday after the undefeated team took down the now-6-5 Terrapins.
Yes, you read that correctly. Although No. 3 Michigan was celebrating its 1,000th program win, it’s not like fans stormed the field after taking down the No. 1 team in the country. It was after escaping an upset attempt from a six-win Maryland team.
Just in case you forgot: Michigan is contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff and a national title. Usually, you don’t rush the field in that scenario unless you beat Ohio State, take down a higher-ranked team or win it all.
However, the fans just rushed the field at Maryland to the point where the Maryland public announcer had to ask them to stay off the field, per Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger.
The reality is that because of the Jim Harbaugh suspension and the sign-stealing controversy , Michigan fans are going to flex their celebrations, even if it’s to the point of even rushing the field after beating mediocre Maryland.
If this is what constitutes as justifiably storming the field these days, then honestly, every fan base should just rush the field after every game.
College football fans had so many jokes about Michigan trying to hid its huddle from Fox's cameras
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- Acoustic Methods
- Published: 28 July 2011
Toroidally focused ultrasonic flaw detectors
- A. V. Shevelev 1 &
- Zh. V. Zatsepilova 2
Russian Journal of Nondestructive Testing volume 47 , pages 308–310 ( 2011 ) Cite this article
New-type toroidally focused ultrasonic flaw detectors, whose application provides an appreciable increase in the flaw detection rate with retention of high sensitivity to flaws, are considered. The construction of a flaw detector is presented, the sizes of a gauge for the formation of the toroidal surface of a lens are given, and the technology of the manufacturing of a toroidal lens is described.
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Ermolov, I.N., Aleshin, N.P., and Potapov, A.I., Nerazrushayushchii control’ (Nondestructive Testing), book 2: Akusticheskie metody kontrolya (Acoustic Testing), Moscow: Vysshaya shkola, 1991.
Nerazrushayushchii kontrol’ (Spravochnik) (Nondestructive Testing: Handbook), Klyuev, V.V., Ed., vol. 3: Ul’trazvukovoi kontrol’ (Ultrasonic Testing), Moscow: Mashinostroenie, 2006.
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Elektrostal Polytechnic Institute, Branch of the National University of Science and Technology “MISIS”, ul. Pervomaiskaya 7, Elektrostal, Moscow oblast, 144000, Russia
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Correspondence to Zh. V. Zatsepilova .
Original Russian Text © A.V. Shevelev, Zh.V. Zatsepilova, 2011, published in Defektoskopiya, 2011, Vol. 47, No. 5, pp. 19–22.
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Shevelev, A.V., Zatsepilova, Z.V. Toroidally focused ultrasonic flaw detectors. Russ J Nondestruct Test 47 , 308–310 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1134/S1061830911050093
Received : 14 January 2011
Published : 28 July 2011
Issue Date : May 2011
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1134/S1061830911050093
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They were blind to autumn colors. Special glasses helped change the view.
A maryland parks agency now provides color-correcting glasses for colorblind visitors to borrow.
Alex Pelaia and his girlfriend were driving through Red Rock Canyon in Nevada when — to her, at least — the obvious beauty was all around them.
“Don’t you think it’s cool how there’s different shades of red along the rocks?” Heather Simmons said.
“Um, ah, sure,” Pelaia replied in such unconvincing fashion that full disclosure was his only real option in this, the opening months of their relationship.
Pelaia told Simmons he was colorblind, a condition that on many levels doesn’t affect his life. The 28-year-old works as a professional firefighter, loves to hike and fish and travel, and can see most colors. But to Pelaia, greens tend to dominate — dull, muted greens.
Just the type of person, in other words, who could benefit from special glasses. And it’s how Pelaia found himself in a Montgomery County, Md., park this fall with five others, all bespectacled, in the great outdoors for the launch of a Montgomery Parks program that offers a more complete version of nature for people like him.
“Look at how red the tree is back there,” he said, pointing to the full fall foliage.
Others locked in on a different hue.
“I can definitely see the different shades of green out there, no doubt,” said Jon Swartz, 31, a turf management professional constantly challenged by how greens and reds bleed into each other. “It’s a nightmare,” he told the others.
The Montgomery program, now up and running, makes the color-correcting glasses available for free use at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. The company that makes the glasses, EnChroma, supports such glasses-loaning programs at more than 400 museums, parks and other places across the nation.
Those who tried the glasses at the launch lauded the devices before veering into self-deprecating jokes about fashion mishaps.
“I’m now afraid to look in my closet,” said Matthew Whitley, a correctional officer from St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland.
“There’s a reason,” added ecologist Mike Selckmann, “that I wear neutrals all the time.”
The glasses being tried generally retail for $189 to $349, and there appears to be growing demand for them. Research and Markets , a publisher of financial reports, projects the global market for all makers of color-correcting glasses will nearly triple to $88 million by 2030.
EnChroma’s glasses cannot improve tint perceptions for the most serious form of colorblindness — monochromacy — an extremely rare condition in which people only see in black and white, according to John S. Werner, a vision scientist at the University of California at Davis Eye Center who has conducted research on the EnChroma glasses. Nor can the glasses help those whose colorblindness relates to blues and yellows, Werner said.
The devices can assist those with the most common forms of colorblindness — difficulty processing greens and reds — by focusing on the “cone receptors” designed to pick up on those two colors. The glasses specifically filter out narrow wavelength bands, according to Werner, which reduces the overlap between green reception and red reception.
On this score, Werner said, the glasses appear to bring out sharper tones and bolder colors to most users. “They really pop,” said Werner, who is colorblind himself and uses the glasses.
With a pair on, he says, walks with his dog Aria include brightened sunsets, sharper flowers and, not unimportantly, a way to distinguish green grass from the browns left behind by Aria. “Before the glasses,” he jokes, “I had difficulty.”
Pelaia and others participating in the Montgomery kickoff received a complimentary pair of the glasses. Here are brief summaries of how colorblindness affects the other five and how they hope the glasses will help.
Lowell Thompson, 57, a professional carpenter who lives just outside Baltimore in Rosedale, has soaked up the outdoors since being a kid. His love for hunting is rooted in sitting alone in the woods. More recently, he has added birdwatching in his backyard. Being colorblind, he said, makes greens seem brown in a way that overpowers reds and oranges.
Thompson learned about the glasses event from his daughter. Wiggling a pair over his vision prescription glasses, a smile crept across Thompson’s face as he looked at a distant bank of autumn trees. “I mean, you can tell they’re not all the same color,” he said.
Thompson didn’t leave the event with a pair of glasses. He is awaiting a pair that will have his prescription embedded into them. “This time of year is my favorite — when I’m sitting in woods, sitting in my backyard,” he said. “I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.”
Seth Heyer , a 14-year-old high school student in Calvert County, Md., said greens and reds tend to fade into dull browns and purples become blues. His friends generally learn he is colorblind in the course of normal conversation.
“I’ll say that’s a nice blue shirt,” Seth said. “And they’re like, ‘This isn’t blue. It’s purple.’”
He gets by, he said, through the understanding of others — and workarounds like reading the labels of colored pencils before filling out color-coded school assignments. Seth hopes to become a herpetologist and until lately had a pet chameleon named Lizzy.
The lizard recently died. By looking at photos of Lizzy while wearing his new glasses, Seth has learned that what he saw as her gray and brown skin was really different shades of green — depending on Lizzy’s daily color shifts. “I wish I would have seen her better,” he said.
Matthew Whitley , the corrections officer, said that two years ago his aunt bought him a pair of EnChroma correcting glasses for indoor use.
In the jail, they have helped the 26-year-old better spot contraband. The eyewear’s tint draws commentary.
“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” prisoners and co-workers have asked.
“The future’s so bright,” Whitley likes to respond, “I’ve got to wear shades.”
And, indeed, Whitley is studying toward a PhD in psychology. The indoor glasses help him sort through charts and graphs.
When he heard about the Montgomery Parks kickoff event — and a chance to get a free outdoor pair — he made the two-hour drive. Putting the outdoor glasses on the first time, he said, afforded a full range of outdoor colors. “It makes the world more beautiful,” he said.
Mike Selckmann, an aquatic ecologist, said that without the glasses, a green filter pervades most of what he sees, giving him particular issues with reds and purples.
“I don’t know if you guys see it,” the 35-year-old said at the kickoff event, looking through the glasses at a row of nearby vehicles, “but that car over there just explodes out of that parking lot.”
Selckmann’s dad, an avid birder, taught him early that proper identification hinges more on behavior and context than colors. It was a lesson Selckmann has applied broadly in his career.
But challenges remain — the different shades of boundaries on maps, for instance, that long required him to study maps longer or get help from a colleague. Selckmann now wears both indoor and outdoor colorblind glasses.
The former helps with the maps. The latter, he said, caused him to pause in his tracks recently at the bright orange of maple trees and the deep red of black gum trees. And the glasses have forced him to reconsider long-held views that others were always overcooking the vibrancy of fall colors.
“It’s amazing that I could be so wrong,” Selckmann said.
Jon Swartz, the turf expert, said his limitations on perceiving red affect him in ways small and large.
At home, when he tells guests that he’s going out back to grill the steaks, it’s hardly said with assurance — as Swartz knows his wife will have to come examine cutaways to make sure medium-rares haven’t become well-dones.
At work, Swartz cannot immediately distinguish turf diseases he learned in college. And when applying red sideline borders to green grass soccer fields, he struggles to see the paint.
While the new glasses help and bring out beauty, Swartz said he dons them sparingly given the replacement cost.
“I don’t want to break them,” Swartz said.
To learn more about borrowing a pair of color-correcting glasses at Montgomery County’s Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, Md., call 301-962-1400. For general inquiries, including how to use the glasses elsewhere, visit the Montgomery Parks Adaptive Equipment website or call 301-495-2581.
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