Managing academic pressure

Dear all

You can listen to the podcast here:

The next group discussion will be on Tuesday 29 October, 11am-12pm, Old Whiteknights House, room G12.
Topic: Managing academic pressure.
There is no need to book, and you can drop in at any time during the hour.
Join in the discussion and meet other doctoral researchers.

Managing academic pressure
Doing research at a doctoral level is exciting and an excellent opportunity to develop your knowledge in your chosen field. However, due to higher expectations at a doctoral level, it is normal to experience some concern regarding your ability to meet key milestones in the research process.

For example, submitting written updates to your supervisors. Writing ideas down to demonstrate progress may cause some tension as you consider how to communicate your ideas effectively.

How we learn best

By focusing on the possibility that things can improve as a result
of your efforts,  you can make progress and maintain your health while working.”    (Mlodinov, 2018)

When we adopt a flexible mindset, also referred to as growth mindset, we increase our opportunities for learning and expanding our knowledge. By becoming aware of how we are thinking, referred to as metacognition, we can develop goals, make plans, assess our progress, and regulate our thinking and emotions as we work on a task (Dweck, 2006).

The more we are aware of our thinking in a constructive manner, the better we can guide our actions and make progress.

Strategies to manage academic pressure

1.Focus on making progress
Acknowledging our progress boosts our motivation and determination (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).

To make progress pay attention to what you are learning: ask yourself questions about the topic. For example, how does it fit in with what you have learned so far? What other concepts/different perspectives could you consider?

Questions help to focus the mind, and serve as filters to identify the relevant material. Next, develop goals and break these down into small steps. Notice the progress you make, including the mistakes along the way, as these will inform the corrections or adaptations that are needed to develop your work.

2.Managing frustration
Our expectations of how our work should develop can cause significant pressure. For example, expecting linear progress or viewing mistakes as evidence of our limitations can cause significant frustration.
If this occurs over a prolonged period it could manifest in stress symptoms.

Doing good research, in fact any learning activity, requires dedicated work over a prolonged time. To improve it requires repeated attempts, trial and errors, and making corrections each time to improve on the previous version. This is called deliberate practice (Erickson, A. & Pool, R., 2016).

When things don’t work out the way you would like them to give yourself time to acknowledge your feelings. Perhaps you feel frustration, disappointment, and possible worry or doubt about the possibility of completing the task well. As you review the work you are doing, focus on the fact that you are making efforts and notice what you are learning.

3.Becoming unstuck
We tend to get stuck in a problem, or cannot see what the next step is, when we are frustrated or feel we cannot find a solution. A way to become unstuck is to pay attention to the present moment and view it as if for the first time.

Take a short break, and then return to your task. Now ask yourself: “what assumptions have I made about this concept/formula/other? What unrelated factor/s could be influencing this that I have not considered yet? What if I view this from a totally different perspective?
What if I exaggerate the problem and see what comes up? What would someone from a different field be curious about?
Ask others for their perspective.

Facing the uncertainty of how your work will be evaluated may trigger worry thoughts. However, it does not mean that these thoughts are reflecting what will happen. Instead, focus your attention on what you are learning. For example, ask yourself what you would like to learn next.

  1. Seek feedback: view it as information to enhance learning
    A very important aspect of learning is making good use of feedback. Perhaps you may find it difficult to ask supervisors for feedback, anticipating that they may be too critical and point out what is wrong.If this is the case, keep in mind that supervisors want you to make progress.Instead, interpret feedback  differently, view it as information that will contribute to developing your ideas and your understanding of the research process.You may find that as you review your supervisor’s comments you may discover new possibilities, and it can also help you to identify actionable steps to move forward with your task.



Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2011) The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset. How you can fulfil your potential. New York: Balantine books.

Ericsson, A. & Pool, R. (2016) Peak. Secrets from the new science of expertise. London: The Bodley Head.

Mlodinov,, L. (2018) Elastic. Flexible thinking in a constantly changing world. London: Allen Lane.