By the Pubs and Publications Committee
Alarms are being set earlier, new academic diaries are being bought, and bright-eyed freshers are beginning to arrive on university campuses. Yes, the start of term is upon us all once again. (Insert cheers or boos here!)
We, the members of the Pubs and Publications Committee, are all at very different stages of our doctoral journeys. Yet we can all remember that mixture of excitement and trepidation which marked our first weeks and our first term. With that in mind, for the opening committee post of the 2019/2020 academic year, we have reflected on the first steps we took along the winding roads of the PhD. We offer the advice we would give to all new PhD students starting out this Autumn on how best to maximise – and enjoy – the early stages of their doctorate.
Just like David Bowie, we are all absolute beginners at one point or another
Sarah Thomson, Contributions Editor
Developing a strong working relationship with your primary supervisor is really, really important. It’s worth talking to your supervisor right at the start about their expectations of you, and vice versa. How far in advance do they expect you to submit written work? How much notice do you need to give them before you arrange a supervision? Similarly, let them know what sort of supervision style you feel will work for you. There’s no point meeting every week if you know that’s going to stress you out! Equally, some people find that having very regular meetings helps to keep them accountable at the early stages of the PhD, while you’re finding your feet. Managing the supervisor-supervisee relationship ensures you feel supported during your PhD studies, while also retaining the freedom of being an independent researcher.
Ian MacNeill, Publicity Editor
A PhD involves many things, but, at the end of it all, you are going to have to write a thesis, which is a substantive document. This might feel daunting, especially in the first few weeks, but get familiar with what you are going to have to produce. I would highly recommend sitting down with some theses that are on a similar topic to your own. Familiarise yourself with the structure and layout of them and examine how well (or not) the author maintains the thread that has to run through a thesis – also pay attention to sign positing. If you particularly like one thesis, then why not adapt the structure for a model for your own? Once you’ve done that, create your thesis document (here I would suggest looking for MS word template) and put all of your finalised writing into it (maybe not your first drafts, however). Seeing this document start to fill up can be a really big motivator and a sign of progress. ALSO, reference and footnote as you go – leaving it until the end will rob you of precious time for editing and other more important tasks, like sleeping, eating or planning how you want to celebrate after you submit!
Working in a coffee shop isn’t for everybody
Krysten Blackstone, Chair
Find a study space that works for you! I spent a lot of my first year working in coffee shops with friends, because that’s where they wanted to work, and it was nice working with others around. It is deeply unfortunate that it took me almost a full year to figure out I am not a work-in-coffee-shops type person. I am also not a work from home person. I’m a very conventional worker. I need a desk to myself in an office where I can lay out all of my notes, with postcards and photos of friends and family. The closer I am to a coffee machine the happier I am. I’m a routine person. I work 9ish-5ish with a 1ish lunch break and a brain halt around 3ish. Settling into a work routine took me a lot longer than I expected it to after I started my PhD, and I think my first year would have been a lot more productive had I accepted that I need a routine centred around an office.
Sam Grinsell, Deputy Chair
Embrace difference. Your PhD will be unlike that of your fellow students, not just in its content but in the process of doing it. There are no fixed rules about when you should go to your first conference, how you should split your time between writing and research, whether you should do additional courses or not and so on and so on. All of these things depend on you, your project and your supervisor(s). You should try to make sure that you are doing the best thing for you and your project, but do not be distracted by trying to follow the paths your colleagues are taking, because each of you will take a different route. Equally, don’t assume that because you have already presented at a conference, published a paper, or conducted a literature review that all of your colleagues will already be comfortable with these things. Accept that we are all learning how to do this weird thing called a PhD, and that we all come in at different stages, but that in the end we all produce some valuable work. With this in mind, you will be able to enjoy the sheer variety of a research group without becoming anxious about your place within it. You belong, just as securely as anyone else.
Tim Galsworthy, Topical Editor
Plan, plan, plan! That is undoubtedly the best advice I can give to any new PhD student, and any existing one too. Throughout the PhD you will have things chucked at you from every direction with a variety of deadlines. You will have work to do for your supervisor(s), conferences to apply for and present at, funding documents to navigate, the small matter of writing your thesis, and much more besides! It is imperative you find a way to organize your time and to keep tracking of everything on your to-do list. Some people stick post-it notes everywhere, some people rely on phone calendars, I myself plan my days minutely using an academic diary. We’ve all heard the phrase “failure to preparing is preparing to fail.” That is true of the PhD as it is true of life.
“Nothing excites me more than a blank academic diary” – Tim Galsworthy
What would your advice be to new PhD students as they begin their doctorates? We would love to have the views of our readers in the comments section or via or social media platforms.
We are also recruiting for new members to join the Pubs and Publications Committee. If you want to apply you better act fast, the deadline is Monday 9th September! We have all found that Pubs and Publications has been an incredibly valuable part of our PhDs and we’re sure you would too.
Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David-Bowie_Chicago_2002-08-08_photoby_Adam-Bielawski-cropped.jpg
Image 2: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1550237
Image 3: https://www.maxpixel.net/Organizer-Memo-Planner-Note-Book-Agenda-Schedule-3489747