Learning Research Student-made

Reflections of the first year of my PhD

Does anyone else feel like the second semester has flown by? Despite having lived most of my life through school terms/semesters I always feel like, at the beginning of May and this year, I feel even more confused than usual with no class timetable telling me what week we are on or what I should be doing.

Reflecting back on my experience of the first year of my PhD, the feeling of having my own timetable was both liberating and a little overwhelming. In October I felt like I had little idea of what I was supposed to do day-to-day, and I wanted someone to give me a reading list or an assignment just so I could have a deadline to work to. Falling into a routine felt like the hardest part of Semester One but once I had started on my literature review I began to feel more confident in what I was doing and on whether I was doing it right. My literature review, as is often the case with PhDs, was common ground for me; it was research I knew from my masters and so it felt familiar and less daunting to be writing about literature I had previously read. While literature reviews can be quite boring to write, the time I spent writing mine up also felt like a trial run, easing me into the life of a PhD student.

January came and so did the mid-year review. I had been told by other PhD students to go into my reviews with an open-mind and I could not think of better advice. Mid-year reviews involve all your supervisors commenting on the work that you have spent four to five months working on and being attached to the work you have produced will not help. Feedback is crucial to your PhD journey and, while it might feel difficult to receive criticism, I found my writing and ideas have expanded and developed considerably based on this feedback. However, most importantly, not all the comments will be critical, and I felt elevated after the meeting having been told they all liked my work!

With the literature review out of the way, I feel like my PhD project can finally begin. While the first semester was difficult, reflecting back I can see how important it was for me to grow in confidence and stretch my abilities during those first few months. Looking forward, I don’t know what will happen next, but I feel less fazed by this thought than I had done back in October. PhDs are always going to be daunting – we’re attempting to solve problems which haven’t been solved before but keep faith in yourself. If I have learnt anything from these last eight months, having confidence in yourself will keep you grounded for whatever comes your way.