Survive and Thrive: Advice to my First-Year-PhD-self

Blog Contributor: Norievill España

Venturing outside of your comfort zone is said to be where the magic happens, and as an international student at Brock University, I can attest to this firsthand. It was a challenging journey, from complying with university requirements and immigration regulations to adjusting to a new environment, yet it was a period of tremendous growth and discovery! As I reflect on my first year, here are a few valuable pieces of advice I wish to offer my former self.

Keep in mind the 3Cs

The opportunity for learning is boundless, but so is the fear of the unknown. Embrace collaboration, communication, and cooperation to overcome obstacles. You are fortunate to learn this valuable lesson through the research assistantship with the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative, coursework, and networking with community partners and peers from outside the university. You will appreciate the value of building strong relationships, working towards common goals, and embracing diverse perspectives. Experiential learning will bring you an immense sense of fulfillment. Acknowledging that you don’t know everything and being humble is vital to the learning process. You’ll find constant support from your Environmental Sustainability Research Centre family, and you’ll never feel alone with a team that has your back.

Self-management is the key

You’ll come across an interesting perspective on time management that will shift your thinking. Remember that time is a constant and cannot be managed, but we can manage ourselves and our actions within the time we have. Shift your focus from busyness to intentionality and use your time effectively. Doing so lets you take ownership of your actions and avoid frustration over unfinished tasks. Remember that stepping away from busyness doesn’t necessarily mean being less productive.

Strive for work-life harmony

While work is important, it is equally important to take time to reconnect with yourself. Make sure to rest, turn off your computer, stretch, prepare and enjoy proper meals, meditate, and get enough sleep. These activities can help reduce stress and improve productivity when you return to work. Take time to unplug, go outside for fresh air, or watch that movie!

Your adviser is your ally

Regular check-in with your adviser is instrumental in keeping you on track with your research, providing constructive feedback on your work, and offering guidance in overcoming challenges. Establish a strong relationship with your adviser that is based on trust and mutual respect.

Family and friends: your best source of positive energy

Connect with your strongest support system, your family and friends, who are deeply committed to your happiness and success. They will keep you grounded, focused, and motivated.  They are always ready to lend a hand and an ear, offering fresh perspectives even if they don’t always understand your ramblings. Keep these people close and celebrate small or big wins with them.

Remember your whys

As part of the inaugural cohort in the PhD Sustainability Science program, you may experience moments of pressure and feel overwhelmed. Moving from natural to social science can be a challenge, but it’s important to remind yourself of the positive reasons why you started this journey. Your passion for helping vulnerable communities, learning the art of science communication, and the dream of creating a better and sustainable world is what drives you forward (and let’s not forget that you’re rooting for The Ministry for the Future!).

Finally, stay persistent

Remember that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one step at a time, trust the process, and keep moving forward. It’s important to celebrate your progress, such as completing two semesters, and pat yourself on the back. As you continue on the next loops, hold that torch of motivation burning brightly to inspire others.  Always be excited and slightly terrified, and keep your eyes on the finish line!

Categories: Blog, Program Reflections, Student Contributor