PGR (and life!) advice from cows
It’s not exactly a secret that I like cows. As a child, I had imaginary cow friends and then I met my first best friend, Vanessa the cow. They have played a major role in looking after my physical and mental wellbeing throughout my PhD. You might laugh or roll your eyes at me saying this, but it’s true. Be it a stroll through Pollok Country Park after a long day in the office to go look at the hairy coos, or going hillwalking in the hope of meeting some cows, they’ve more often than not been the driving factor behind me getting outdoors and active. They’re amazing, non-judgemental listeners who were always more than happy to listen to my conference talks in exchange of a head scratch and a carrot. If I ever had a bad day, stroking one of the coos in Pollok Park would always make me feel better - they are incredibly soft and warm, and petting animals is known to relax us! While they work hard keeping the grass nice, they know how to relax and hang out with their friends. They are wonderfully intelligent and friendly animals, deeply curious and resourceful, and not to mention very athletic (ever seen a coo playing football with a bale of hay?!) Basically, they’re an absolute joy to be around and I think, as PGR students and researchers, we can learn a thing or two about looking after ourselves from cows.
Doing a PGR degree is often stressful and we work long, lonely hours and weekends. It’s easy to choose an extra hour analysing data over sleep, and spending half an hour outdoors might not even be something that crosses our minds. Here on the blog we talked a lot about work-life balance, spending time outside even if it’s just for one of our PGR lunchtime walks, and asking for help when things are getting too much. However, I also know how easy it is to ignore this advice sometimes. So, as I’m getting towards the end of my PhD and can see the light at the end of the thesis tunnel (very, very faintly), let me tell you all these things again. But don’t take this advice from me, take it from coos – they’re experts at PGR wellbeing, trust me!
First of all, get enough sleep! Our productivity decreases when we are not resting properly, not to mention all the other negative health effects of not sleeping enough.
Eating properly is just as important for our energy levels, concentration and overall health. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a giant slice of chocolate cake to celebrate the end of a long week, but a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies is important for everyone, especially when doing something as challenging as a PGR degree.
If possible, have lunch with a friend every now and again rather than eating at your desk. Pick a nice place and treat yourselves while leaving the PGR work behind for a few minutes. It’s important to keep in touch with family and friends and have a good support network when possible.
Remember your hobbies! Your PGR degree shouldn’t take up your whole life, it’s important to make time for the things you enjoy. Read and reread your favourite books, go to museums, do yoga, go for a walk outside and explore the country.
And finally, remember to try and relax and if things do get too much at any point, please ask for help!
Word of warning here: while cows are lovely, they can also be temperamental and have bad days. If you’re in a field with cows and not separated by a fence, don’t get too close to them and don’t disturb them. This is especially important if they have calves around as they are very protective mothers. Don’t try to pet them unless they are 100% happy with it and only if you’re separated by a fence; Pollok park is a good place for this. If you want to feed them, always ask a farmer first if what you plan on giving them is good for them and if they can have it. If there’s no farmer or park ranger around, keep the food for yourself. Your safety, and the cow’s safety, are more important than getting close to a cow with calves on an open hillside. They’re very big animals with very big horns, and they can hurt you.
What about you? Do you agree with the coos? Have more advice for PGRs? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @UofG_PGRBlog!