By Grant Golub |
As I write this, it is difficult to believe the new academic year at LSE is starting today. Part of that is because of the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also because I can’t believe I’m entering my second year of the PhD. It feels like just yesterday I was moving to London to start my PhD, and despite the pandemic’s ability to warp our perception of time, it’s hard to imagine that was 12 months ago. With the new academic year upon us, there is no better time to reflect upon my PhD experience thus far and share what I’ve learned.
A year into my degree, I still hold the conviction that LSE is an ideal place to do a PhD because of its location in London, its world-class professors, and its proximity to countless archives and libraries. This has made it much easier to conduct research and prepare my dissertation. I’ve been very privileged to have a wonderful supervisor who cares a lot about me and my work. Our conversations have always been fruitful and give me new things to consider for the direction of my research. I have been very lucky to have such a hands-on supervisor.
One aspect of the PhD that I underestimated is how much work you actually do on your own. At LSE, there are one or two seminars you participate in to introduce skills you need for the PhD, but otherwise, you spend the bulk of your time individually conducting your research. During the first half of my first year, I spent countless hours reading articles and books on my topic to make sure I understood the literature. At the halfway mark, I wrote my literature review based upon that reading, which helped me set my eventual dissertation within the broader literature of my field.
In January 2020, I began working on my upgrade chapter, which is an original piece of research we are required to submit as part of our upgrade dossiers submitted in June. At first, I spent a lot of time reading the primary source materials I had already collected and organised so they were ready to go when I began writing. Around March, I started writing the chapter, which I constantly worked on until I submitted my dossier. Although I studied history as both an undergraduate at Princeton University and during my master’s degree at LSE, I was struck at how different it felt to write this chapter. I’ve produced independent historical work in the past (at Princeton, we’re required to write undergraduate dissertations of roughly 100 pages in order to graduate), but this time, I felt like I was truly making my own arguments and engaging with other historians in a way I did not feel previously. The feeling has left me feeling like I am growing as a historian and strengthening my skills. I’m excited to see where that goes as I move through my second year of the PhD and beyond.
The first year of the PhD is a great time to read, think, and write before you take on other responsibilities in later years. If you are going into your first year of a PhD this academic year, I would encourage you to read widely, strongly consider where you will fit into the scholarship, and be bold in your arguments. Don’t be afraid to have a different viewpoint and make your voice heard. After all, as scholars, that is what is required of us.
Grant Golub is a PhD candidate in the Department of International History at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He serves as one of Pubs and Publications’ contributions editors. You can find him on Twitter here.
Image 1 Credit: Grant Golub