My name is Tim Little, and I’m a PhD student split between The Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College London. I research gene expression in malaria parasites! I went to Cambridge for my undergrad and masters, and it was there where my mental health plummeted.
I had previously struggled with social anxiety but only when I went to Uni did things truly become unbearable. The new social setting gave me huge anxiety, my massive expectations crushed my spirit and, above all else, the hideous workload weighed heavily upon me. I couldn’t keep my head above the water. Especially in the first year, when I slept long, long hours and cried weekly - I missed over half of my lectures and assignments. Things ebbed and flowed until it came to a head during my masters. After years of ignoring the symptoms, and blaming them on myself, I finally realised what it was - depression.
When I got my PhD position and moved to London, suddenly missing one day a week, which was passable at university, became quite an unacceptable set-back. With experiments, I was finding it tough to be reliable, which was bad enough without all the other pressures of being a grad student. My PhD wouldn’t be able to pan out as it was.
My supervisors decided that I would have to focus on computational techniques, which I had experienced during my masters. With this newer project I’m less sure what the next steps will be, but now I have much more flexibility, which is what I need right now. I can work from home often, including working visits back to Northern Ireland, where my family and my cat live. If I miss a day during the week, as I still often do, I can make up for it another time.
I have been fortunate to have super understanding supervisors, who were willing to adapt the PhD to fit around my health. It is always reassuring to hear about other grad students who have mental health issues, and I hope that my openness can bring some of that to others also! My mental health journey, and my PhD, are far from over…
Twitter handle: @TimLittleBuzz