21 Introduction: What is self-care?

Box 4.1 – Student Testimonial – Why Self-Care?

It is reading week February 2020, one month before my thesis is due in March. One of my data analysis tools, RQDA, is not working on my Mac. The application self-destructs everytime I run it; occasionally taking my files with it. I spend day until night, night until day, frantically surfing through abstruse blogs containing fierce debates between hopeless amateurs and tired experts helping the hopeless amateurs figure out RQDA. My retina burns. A coding package is required just to decipher the pages of codes telling me what I need to do. My jaw does not unclench except to eat and drink. A variety of bypasses to my problem are suggested: re-coding the platform algorithm itself in R, downloading another package which will provide the background graphics needed for RQDA, manually installing each package again and again when the full application does not work, and switching to a major in literature. None work. Or at least, I understand none of it, but I intently stare at my screen for days in the hopes my despair can solve technical obstacles. The thought of failure, of being a fraud after a year of telling others I am in honours, begins to perspire from the walls around me.After a week of suffering, I almost sold my Mac and got a Dell until my girlfriend coaxed me to send an email to my supervisor. “My supervisor? But she was so busy, and this problem was afterall minor to everyone but myself. If I could just do this.. And that… all would be fixed.” I eventually sent it, explaining in pedantic detail my dilemma and providing a plan to avoid RQDA. An hour later I received a sentence-long email in reply: “Of course, no need to use RQDA for the quantitative side anyway 🙂 …Sent from my Ipad.” My supervisor was right, of course.

This is just one example of the “catastrophizing” I conducted throughout the last year of my thesis. Worker bees like me will be familiar with an armoury of stings used to rally ourselves when the motivation is not there (persuasion by fear of failure when confidence in success is not working). Everything must be a crisis, down to the alphabetical order of citations, in order to achieve perfection. It is with this kind of tyranny in mind that we wrote the following reflection on self-care. I hope it provides solace to you as well, and reminds those like me to understand their limitations, forgive them, and forgive the same in others – all while remembering the passion that led us to begin.

Alexander Wilson, Sociology Honours student, 2020-2021

We decided to address self-care early in this manual because we want you to have tools to be able to deal with the challenges that come with writing a thesis. As expressed in Alexander’s testimonial (above), this chapter is built around helping you to overcome the high-pressures that can take place in the research process. Stresses and challenges will inevitably arise at some point in your journey so it is best to develop practices that can help you to successfully navigate them. As Alexander’s testimonial in Box 4.0.1 indicates, sometimes the solution to a seemingly daunting problem is the confidence to state our concerns and ask for help. Self-care involves taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally. Creative acts such as your thesis are devotional, and draw from you mentally, physically and emotionally. This can lead to self-neglect and the sacrificing of your dignity, worth, energy, confidence and self-esteem. If you notice that you are constantly comparing your work to others, and/or just being downright confused in the pursuit of some abstract ideal, you might be in need of some self-care. According to the World Health Organization (2022), Self-care is broad concept which encompasses the following

  • hygiene (general and personal);
  • nutrition (type and quality of food eaten);
  • lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.);
  • environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.);
  • socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.);
  • and self-medication

The WHO (2022) further notes that self-care includes “aspects of the individual (e.g. self-reliance, empowerment, autonomy, personal responsibility, self-efficacy) as well as the greater community (e.g. community participation, community involvement, community empowerment)”. The aim of this chapter is to provide tips to help you address self-care holistically and to be able to respond to common stresses in the research process. The tips are rooted in the experiences and responses of different honours students over the course of their thesis, and are intended to provide both tangible tools to responding to major issues in the thesis process and to normalize rest from those stresses.

As the WHO (2022) definition above implies, self-care is intended to keep you healthy, productive and being able to reach your potential. This means that it is not the same as either self-indulgence or self-neglect. Self-indulgence involves excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires, or whims (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Thus, while watching some Netflix might be a good self-care habit, binging for an entire month while neglecting the rest of your life is definitely too indulgent. Hence, self-care requires that you strike the balance between fulfilling your desires but not at the detriment to important things in your life.

At the opposite end of the self-care spectrum is self-neglect, which is an extreme lack of attention to one’s mental, emotional and physical needs. Just as spending a month binging on Netflix without attention to other important details of your life is not good for your health, so is obsessively working on your thesis to the exclusion of other aspects of your life. Like self-indulgence, self-neglect is counterproductive to your thesis journey. Table 2.4 below highlights some indicators of self-neglect and self-care.

Table 2.4 - Sample Undergraduate 6 Page Research Proposal Template
Section Brief Explanation Estimated Length
Introduction Title. Short outline of the problem and its importance. 1 Page
Literature Review Short history of other investigations into the problem. 2 Page
The Purpose Fulfill the gap in the literature and reiterate the significance of the study. 1/2 Page
RQ's A summary of the questions or thesis that you expect to guide your research. 1/4 Page
Method(s) A summary of and argument for the methods you will use to answer that research question 1 Page
Data Analysis A summary of how you intend to make sense of what you found 1/2 Page
Summarize, Engage Limitations, and Implicate Provide an overview of your study and its significance. Recognize the potential limitations before highlighting the contribution.

3/4 Page
References Attach
Adapted from Petrina, Stephen. (2009). “Thesis Dissertation and Proposal Guide For Graduate Students.” https://edcp-educ.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2013/08/researchproposal1.pdf

Box 4.2 – Institutional Support for Self-Care

Maintain social connections​

  1. Actively stay in touch with people near and far​
  2. Invite others to do activities with you​
  3. Engage meaningfully in course interactions​ (online or in-person)
  4. Create study groups​ (online or in-person)
  5. Remember, in most cases, you are doing much better than you think​.

For more details, see https://keeplearning.ubc.ca/self-care/

UBC’s Thrive 5 for self-Care

For more details, visit: https://students.ubc.ca/ubclife/were-making-space-self-care-season

Teaching and Learning Support

Talk to your professors, peers, academic advisor, or anyone about any concerns that you have: https://keeplearning.ubc.ca/self-care/

Mental and Emotional Support (UBC Counselling Services)

Talk to a counselor: https://students.ubc.ca/health/counselling-services


Repeatedly emphasized in this chapter is the value of cultivating a social environment that normalizes and supports such care. Throughout your research, you will be encouraged to check in with other researchers, inquire about their interests and share your struggles. You may find that in promoting care for them as people independent of research and credentials, they will do the same for you: creating strong external bonds that could serve as a line-out when drowning in the egoism of research. Such was also our reason for creating this manual, to care for you as you care for research. We will discuss time management, mindfulness, and availing to and/benefiting from peer support as effective self-care strategies.


WHO [World Health Organization]. (2022). What do we mean by self-care? https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/self-care-interventions/definitions/en/



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Practicing and Presenting Social Research Copyright © 2022 by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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