Researchers unite! Knit your troubles away…

By the time this blanket is ready, the baby will have graduated from university!

It’s very satisfying to make something entirely by hand. But when it comes to knitting, it seems that I am definitely NOT a natural. However, even though our aim was to make blankets for premature babies at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the atmosphere here was so friendly that my dismal progress didn’t seem to matter.

I was at ‘Knitting and Crocheting for premature babies”, a monthly lunchtime drop-in run by the Researcher’s Wellbeing Initiative. Around me, 30 or so other PhD students and post-doctoral researchers sat grouped around tables piled high with colourful yarns. Some were scientists, some worked in the arts faculty; some had children, others didn’t; some were already accomplished knitters whereas some, like me, had never made a stich in their life before. It certainly countered the stereotypical image of knitting being the preserve of elderly grandmas! Despite being such a varied group, the conversation flowed as rapidly as our needles flashed and the talk wasn’t just limited to the merits of plain or pearl stitch. Hobbies, childcare tips, favourite recipes, travel stories and social issues: all entered the discussion at some point.

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Of course, something greater was going on beyond making blankets and chatting. I had arrived with a fair burden of work anxieties and niggling problems related to my lab work, but as I focused on my first rows of plain stitch, I felt myself begin to relax. And that is the true point of these events. It can be very easy to take up the belief that if you are struggling with your research and PhD, then it’s because there is something wrong with you. But the support services at the University of Sheffield have a refreshingly proactive approach. Instead, the message is very much that it is almost a given that you will find the going tough at times – it’s simply part of the course. And so a whole host of events is provided so that we can come together and support one another. As well as knitting, Researcher Wellbeing organise laughter yoga sessions, mindfulness and relaxation and papercraft events. And besides these “work escapism” activities, you can also book onto more skill-focused services through the Think Ahead programme including CV workshops, thesis writing session and the Viva Survivor programme.

My lunchtime of knitting certainly gave me some perspective. My workload might seem daunting at times but imagine if I was caring for two small children as well? I learnt a lot over the two hours besides how to “cast-off” a row of stitches; tips for juggling that old work-life balance, advice on how to approach my supervisor for guidance and good habits for reading papers and writing up methods.

I returned to the lab with a heavy bag of yarn, but a much lighter heart. As well as a clearer head and a restored sense of peace, I had been given a new favourite activity for those cold winter evenings. I’ll get that blanket done one day!

Researcher Wellbeing and Think Ahead events can be booked via the LMS portal on the University of Sheffield online portal. You can find this under the ‘View all Services’ tab.

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