So, you’ve made it. Congratulations. You are now a postgraduate student. Whether you have come from Aberystwyth or Antarctica, you have found your way to campus, signed on the dotted line, and officially taken your first step into the world of Warwick.
Your first two weeks will go in a blur. Somehow it will feel simultaneously like two seconds and two years. There is so much to do and so little time to do it in. Meet your supervisor, meet your head of department, meet your future colleagues, confidents and conference-buddies. Fill in a hundred forms detailing who you are, where you’re from, and how you like your tea. Explore the library, explore campus, explore your office, explore the bus-stop. It will be two weeks which will set up years of (hopefully) ground-breaking research and procrastination.
Photo credits: Sheep purple
A number of your activities in your first two weeks will be predetermined by your department, all in the name of helping you to fit in. So will follow a series of introductions and meetings, all designed to make sure that you are given the best possible start. After a while, this endless tirade of workshops and whatnot can get a bit tiresome, but persevere, most of them will end up being very useful. Miss them, and you may find yourself in six months wondering how IT Services works or why a fire-alarm shatters the silence every Monday morning at half past nine. If nothing else, all of these first-fortnight activities will be an excellent opportunity to meet others in the same boat, as well as those who are seasoned veterans at the whole postgraduate game. There is no-one better for advice than those who have just gone through the process on which you are about to embark. Use their wisdom, their experience, and their tea-spoons.
You will also, of course, have a fair bit of free-time in that first fortnight. Some of this will be filled-up with personal obligations: meeting your supervisor, opening accounts with banks and online book retailers, and making your house/flat/room feel like home. It is worth exploring your surroundings at this point, both on-campus and off. Over your postgraduate career, there will inevitably come a point when you just need to get away from your research, and it helps no end if you have already found a place of sanctuary. It might be a coffee shop, it might be a park bench, it might be underwater in a local canal; it all depends on you.
By the end of the fortnight, you may even get a chance to knuckle down and embark on the project which brought you to Warwick, but it is worth taking your time finding your feet. Depending on your programme, postgraduate study can be a long, lonely and often frustrating process, and it is not advisable to just jump in without caution. After that first fortnight, you will become more independent as your attention turns to your own work. Nevertheless, it is crucial that you are aware how and where to get support, if and when you should need it. It may come from other students in the department, or from academic staff; you may find that someone in no way involved with academia will end up giving you the advice which turns your research-hell into a land of plenty. In any case, it is worth taking a little time to ensure that the foundations of your support network are established in this early period. You never know when you may need it.
Above all, however, try and enjoy your first fortnight. It may seem like a heady rush which has no end, but never forget that you are just getting started on a very exciting experience. In years to come you will look back on these fourteen days and realise that almost every great idea, wonderful collaboration and survival strategy had its roots here. Make them count.
“A Warwick student since 2006, a postgraduate since 2010, I am completing a PhD in the Department of History on post-war English welfare and social work. Originally from Cambridge, I like cycling, squash, and playing with cats.” – Thomas Bray