Practice vs performance

By James Hayton,
January 17, 2019
I'm James, I'm a former physicist (PhD, Nottingham, 2007) and author of "PhD: An Uncommon Guide to Research, Writing & PhD Life".
Since 2010, I've been helping PhD students all over the world overcome barriers in their research and writing
My strategies have helped thousands of PhD students just like you to build confidence, write better and finish on time

In a PhD (or academia in general), there's always pressure to perform. To get the results, to write them up and get them published.

But by putting too much pressure on results in the short term, it's easy to neglect the need for practice; the need to work on skills without worrying too much about the end product.

Let's use a sports analogy. If you spend all your time in competitive matches, you might develop a certain toughness; an ability to keep on grinding away, but without actually getting better. You'll have some wins, but you'll never reach the top.

Under the pressure of performance, you can't experiment and adapt. You can't work on basic technique when you have to react right now; your performance will stay at the level you can already perform instinctively.

It's in the times between matches, away from the pressure of performance that you can work on skills. In sports there is a clear separation between practice and performance, but in PhD work, where you have to arrange your own work in a way that's conducive to developing your research skills, you have to create that separation.

Take some time out and work on the basics. It will pay off in the long run.

See also

Raising the bar

Free Live Webinar:

How to adapt your PhD during the coronavirus crisis (and beyond)

Sunday 3rd May, 5pm UK time*
(6pm CET, 12 noon EDT, 9am PDT)
register free
*if you can't make the live event, you can still register and watch the recording

Stay up to date...

The PhD Academy:
Online training and support for PhD students

learn more...

For more detailed guidance and support...

The PhD Academy All-Access Pass

Weekly calls with James

You don't have to do it all alone! Get the All Access Pass for weekly group calls and Q&A sessions with James

Every online course

Build your skills and confidence with our detailed video courses. Go at your own pace and get advice and support when you need it

Get the book!
PhD: an uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life

order now on amazon