Pressure to perform in student and work life
Almost all of us will have felt the pressure to perform at some point in our lives. Some excel under its influence, being able to turn it into a driving force assisting them in achieving their goals. Others can feel crushed under the weight of this subjective force, and even start to doubt their abilities. The Student & Early Career Committee, as a diverse set of individuals, felt that sharing some of our experiences on this subject would firstly make interesting reading, but more importantly, provide an insight into the lives of others with which you can hopefully relate. We hope our stories help you recognise that we are all individuals in unique situations, but there is comfort in knowing that many of us will have felt the same way at some point and as a community we are here to help and support one another.
Anxiety is not all bad, especially when it gives us the opportunity for a proper laugh. I remember the pressure I was feeling during my university days. Between tight deadlines, exams and a very competitive environment, I was starting to feel the weight of my own expectations to be better and achieve my goals. Being in that mindset can be very isolating as I didn’t see my friends feeling the same pressure. I believed I was the only one struggling and no one shared my worries. It was around that time when someone mentioned a new blog dedicated to anecdotes from the life of an engineering student. It gathered all sorts of funny stories about types of classmates, professors and exams we could all relate to, with some more serious articles about the importance of mental wellbeing which often had a very active comment section with many students and former students sharing their experience. What I realised was we all felt the same and I discovered the importance of having a community of people that would understand and support one another.
Maitheya Riva BSc MSc ProfGradIMMM - Materials Engineer, RINA
Pressure is always viewed as negative and seldom celebrated for what it helps achieve. I’m extremely grateful for the pressures I’ve found myself under, and without them, I’m confident I wouldn’t be where I am today. Diamonds only form under pressure, so is it really such a bad thing?
As I’ve moved away from university and started my career, the performance pressures I face have changed. At university, almost all pressure was self-generated whereas now, the driver to perform is more often project-based, with hard timelines and strict budgets controlling my direction. Despite these project-based pressures, the self-generated pressures of university have not disappeared. For me, these take the form of imposter syndrome and an associated drive to make myself as good as I think I need to be to fit in. On the days where my imposter syndrome is overwhelming, it’s the project-based pressures that rein me back in allowing me to succeed.
Without pressure, I wouldn’t make progress, so I’m thankful for the performance pressures that have driven me to where I am today but hopeful that with time and experience the days when I completely question myself will disappear allowing me to do an even better job.
Alice Robinson GradIMMM - Technologist, Rolls-Royce plc
After studying 8 years at the University of Manchester (including an undergraduate, masters and PhD), I have been working in industry for two and a half years. I have found there to be many different pressures transitioning to an industrial role as compared to student research (the 4 years of the PhD in particular). It will probably come as no surprise that the major difference and main driver in industry is money and therefore time.
At my company Innoval Technology, I have been allowed to pursue more external activities and work with groups where my time spent does not directly contribute to revenue gained. Innoval understands the benefits gained from these roles with new networks formed, collaborations made and professional development of myself and my colleagues. As a consultancy we are considered experts in our field, and these external activities are crucial to staying on top of industrial innovation, a pressure in itself. Ultimately, these activities can only be pursued if the company exists profitably, so there is always a dependency company-wide to balance client work with more external activities. In contrast for a PhD (even if industrially sponsored), the focus is more on the technical details of the materials and with that comes the pressure of developing state of the art innovative solutions. Students should always consider the implications of their materials research in industry, but this will rarely include thinking about the effects on profits - rightfully so in my opinion.
For the most part, the pressures involved with both a PhD project and industrial life I consider positive, as they help you to improve personal and professional skills and deal with sometimes difficult situations. If the pressures are becoming too much, the best thing you can do is talk to someone, whether it is your manager, supervisor, colleague, fellow student or a friend.
Dr Michael Kenyon - Materials Engineer, Innoval Technology Limited
As a recent graduate in my first job, I have found that the exact nature of the pressure to perform has not been consistent through each period of my professional life. As a PhD student, the pressure to perform came from myself. Without frequent deadlines, self-motivation was the key factor providing pressure in my day-to-day work. Now, in my current workplace, the pressure to perform comes from those who are dependent on the outcome of my work. Dealing with clients, deadlines and third-person expectations of high-quality work presents itself as a different kind of pressure. Irrespective of the origin of the pressure, it manifests itself in a similar way – as a need to ‘prove’ that I can do the work. This can lead to me doubting my abilities, but also seeing the results of my work, because of the pressure, can lead to a slow increase in confidence over time.
Dr Alastair Houston IEng MIMMM - Consultant Material Scientist, Minton, Treharne & Davies Ltd
I have worked in my current role for almost 3 years. During this time, I have faced some challenges, finishing a PhD whilst working, family concerns, 2020 etc. I put pressure on myself to keep performing at the same level, leading to times where I have felt burnt out.
I find Tata Steel has a supportive environment where employees can develop and grow. However, in every workplace, pressure can escalate if the person is dealing with challenges outside of the workplace. A bad meeting might be handled well one week, but not the next. It is important to recognise that external pressures in your own and colleague’s lives can affect workplace performance and that it is important to check in with those around you.
Personally, I am a list writer, most of the time I find that it helps motivate me and focus my mind when there are lots of external distractions. Everybody will have something which works for them and reduces pressure, it is important you find what works for you.
Dr Aimee Goodall MIMMM - Process Technology Specialist, Tata Steel
All the best,