PhDiaries: Settling into PhD life

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Starting PhD life can be different for any new researchers. You may be fresh out of studying undergraduate or a postgraduate degree, returning to academia after a while, or maybe even brand new to the academic environment. Whatever your experience at university, I want to provide a few areas for you to start to prioritise that I know would have benefitted me when I started my PhD. 

Some places to start…

Finding your way across all the different facilities and activities offered in Manchester can be very daunting with it being such a lively city. However, to set you up for your research, making time for any inductions, whether they are online or in person is a really good way to start to get to know the campus and the various things going on. If you miss anything too (which is totally understandable), having a catch up with your supervisors in the diary as soon as possible is a great place to take any initial questions for inductions. Similarly, there may be some skills you wish to brush up on or start to think about as early as possible. The library services can help with this, including workshops around literature reviews, resilience as a PGR student, critical thinking skills and many more. It is worth visiting the main library in person or the website and explore what is available to you to set you up for your research journey. For disabled students, get in touch with the Disability Advisory and Support Servce (DASS) as soon as you can. This is to get processes moving for you if you require any help and support relating to a disability and to find any further relevant support you can access.  The Student’s Union is also a good starting point for advice relevant to the University. There are also many staff networks to get involved with and be a part of too. 

Some things to expect…

A PhD is likely to be a very new experience to most of you. Structurally speaking, it is essentially an apprenticeship for research. If you have had experience of project management, you will be off to a good start for sure. One thing to really consider is treating your PhD as a full-time job, to be able to keep the routine with your work. Whatever your working hours and days are, planning to work consistently (even if you don’t feel like you are doing masses of work every day) I have found is key to managing my work when unexpected things happen in my personal life. If you are part-time, the same applies with having some kind of consistency and discipline with your research time to the best you can. For those who have perhaps done undergraduate and master’s where you didn’t experience much structure, this is now the time to put something into place that really works for you. 

Some things to think about…

You are researching to contribute to knowledge which can be and bizarre and very unsettling feeling… imposter syndrome. This comes up when you least expect it and not always when you feel you are able to manage it. While it can be important to discuss and disseminate your research across different areas to increase the impact of your work, it is equally important for you to feel safe and that you belong in a research space…so prioritise the latter first. For more tips on managing imposter syndrome, you can read a previous blog where I covered this. Another point to think about is that a PhD is as much about any skills you want to develop (research-related or not) as it is your research project. Having regular discussions with your supervisors and others around you can be really helpful for you to think about what you want to gain during your time doing a PhD and some incredible opportunities to help you get where you want. A final point to make is remembering in every situation “what can I do?”. This is a thought that has really helped me to shape my research and daily life especially during those times I have not been able to rely on others (including supervisors) and had to learn to make decisions using my own judgement. This also includes deciding to that take a holiday or do something for a break for yourself. You are the expert of you. 

A PhD is a very unique experience broadly, then each PhD project is even more unique in its own way. Looking back to how I was after my first year of my PhD, I realised how much was about getting to know new things and becoming familiar with the PhD process. This is even as someone who has been at the University for years and learned different processes from different roles during my time here. Take the time you need to figure things for your project and yourself along the way. You will make it to where you want to.