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  • Writer's pictureDr Catriona Ryan

The Importance of Self-Compassion on the PhD Journey

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

An important aspect of the PhD researcher experience is the development of one’s relationship to self. When I was PhD candidate my research journey was a turning point in this subjective context. It enabled me to forge a stronger awareness around my thoughts and feelings enhancing confidence around my PhD research and post-PhD career. Developing a relationship with oneself involves engaging with our thoughts positively. This is the cornerstone of building resilience.

In the first year of my PhD I realised the importance of positive mind management. At that time I was experiencing self-doubt about my abilities. I then realised I was triggering my own writer’s block by engaging fear-based thoughts about completing a PhD thesis.

I discovered that in order to have a successful PhD journey I needed to take on a second project; building a relationship with myself. This involved observing how I spoke to myself; managing self-criticism; being aware of the fear-based stories I was telling myself which often were not based in reality; and above all being more self-compassionate. These efforts had a positive impact on my experience of myself as a PhD researcher. I believe this skill needs to be taught to every postgraduate and PhD researcher.

Building resilience is predicated on being more self-compassionate. Having an overly critical inner voice can impact negatively on PhD productivity and even future career decision-making. In my experience positive self-engagement transformed negative thinking and enhanced my PhD journey.

Developing self-confidence as a PhD researcher resulted in reduced fear-based thinking & allowed more creative ideas to flourish. I also developed an entrepreneurial mindset via the realisation of my leadership potential. Subjective leadership (in my experience) is essentially awareness of that richer space of freedom which comes from a deeper connection with self.

That richer space of freedom can work in a number of ways: 1. Enhanced critical and creative thinking: there was increased confidence in my intellectual abilities. This coincided with an internal sense of leadership in my engagement with the whole research and academic writing process. As a result (during The PhD) I developed a new 7-step, anxiety-reducing approach to academic writing which is the basis of my popular practice-based ‘Academic Writing: Reduce Anxiety’ workshop for PhDs & postgraduates.

2. Post-PhD career: that richer space of freedom also applied outside the research process in that my networking and publishing confidence grew. It also had an impact on my planning around my post-PhD career. It gave me the confidence to take a more flexible approach. My internal sense of leadership, rooted in a deeper connection with self (which I was continually developing), enhanced my awareness of a richer space of freedom to apply for jobs and be self-employed at the same time. This flexible strategy created more opportunities.

I honestly believe the key to a deeper self-connection is compassion which is the basis of building resilience and that evolving subjective sense of leadership. My ‘Stress Reduction Techniques in Research’ workshop for PhDs & postgrads is based on my experience of building resilience around and within the PhD research process. It has helped many PhD & postgraduate students, especially during covid.

PhD Hardtalk Podcast Interview

‘Wellbeing for PhDs in the Academic Writing and Research Process: The Ph.D. hardtalk Interview!’ FULL INTERVIEW about my work is hosted by Dr Noma Mguni for the Ph.D. hardtalk podcast. I discuss my Online (on-campus when covid-safe) workshops for PhDs & their impact on the PhD Higher Ed sector both in the UK and internationally:

For more information about my workshops contact me at or via social media.

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