Organisation - September 28, 2017

‘I kept thinking: I must stay focused’

Lieke de Kwant

The propositions PhD students append to their theses quite often reflect personal experience. And that is the case with this proposition chosen by Ilse Remmers. In the second half of her doctoral research period she hardly did anything but work. Not very sensible, she now realizes.

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Ilse Remmers graduated with a PhD on 15 September, with a thesis on optimizing oil production in algae for use as biofuel.

Proposition: Leisure on a daily basis is essential.

‘When I started my PhD I was relaxed. I spent time on my hobbies and often did sport or went for a walk in the lunch hour. But in the third year I started to feel the clock was ticking. I took less and less time off for a chat or some distraction. At some point I dropped too many things that weren’t work-related.

Only later did I realize that this only made me less efficient. I kept thinking: I must stay focused. But you stay more focused precisely when you regularly stand back from your work, especially while writing your thesis. If you don’t, you can get stuck on the same problem for a long time.

I only realized this in retrospect myself. And it certainly isn’t easy to go on taking time for relaxation when you feel the pressure of having to finish such a big project. To some extent the pressure comes from society: the pressure to achieve. But mostly you generate the pressure yourself. After all, it is nice if the project is finished within the deadline.

I am definitely not the only one to have struggled with this. So this proposition is a message to others, too. Make sure you carry on doing the things you have always enjoyed and which energize you. Then the rest will go a lot more smoothly too.’