It probably still feels like you’ve just started, but the students records are indifferent to your uncertainties – somehow, the number 3 is persistently shown. Sherry shares her experience of starting the Third Year of PhD… 

On this third day of academic year 2015-2016, rainy morning, the first email I got at 8:30 am from the Graduate School, is for reminding me that I am now a 3rd year PhD student, it is time to write my thesis and professional development, to think about what to do next, and I really to improve my employability because it is tough out there!

So far, this idea of “being a 3rd year PhD student” is still so strange and unfamiliar, how is my life different from last week? I am still doing the same research and messing around with the same pot of data. How is my 3rd year going to be different from my 2nd year?

“I will enjoy the data and waffles the same time as long as I am still working on it!”

A week ago, I went to my first ever international conference. I was really nervous and quite frankly freaking out about it because this will be the first time for me to present my research data. Never wrote a conference paper before, what should I put in there? How many people will be there listening? What if they asked really difficult questions? What if I said something so stupid that would completely embarrass myself? I have a trail of questions on top of my head and I just left for Vienna.

So, of course, introducing who I am was the start of my presentation. The minute I said “I am going to be a 3rd year PhD student in couple days…”, my brain just stopped working for 3 seconds. This is real and it is happening, I am already third year now, what does it mean?

The conference was great, Vienna was awesome, and it’s time to go back to work.

At Heathrow airport UK border force, as usual the immigration officer asked routine questions like what degree and course I was studying.

“Which year you are in now?”

“Well, tomorrow, I am officially a third year PhD student.”

“Wow, that’s quite a journey…..”

And he stamped my passport, smiled at me, saying: “welcome back!”

That’s the first time I felt like coming home to England, and I’ve been here for 6 years!

So the first day of my amazing third year, I arrived at university, met new PhD students in the office. And of course I was so happy to meet new people, and I went on saying “don’t worry the senior students will organise something so we can all know each other” and without stopping I said it out loud “on my god I am the senior student now!” I guess I still need sometime to adjust to this.

And of course, seeing so many new students on campus is actually pretty scary after having a quiet campus over the summer.  And the new kids are getting younger and younger, and it makes me wonder, does it make sense to join any societies now? I will be standing next to an 18 year old and looking like a grandma! And I feel like one! I should just stay within the research students’ room forever until I finish my thesis. I am not even sure if it is even legit to have fun when you are 3rd PhD student!

Looking at the webpage of PGR professional development, staring at the 6 themes of skills makes me rethink what a PhD student should do. All the time I’ve always been told (and told off!) that you need to focus on your research and finish your thesis as soon as you can, then move on to the next chapter of your life. But all these skills that seem to make us employable are way more than just doing a research project. Maybe my third year should not be entirely just about thesis.

I think at the end of this post, I come to a more calming stage that I can think about my 3rd year now. Comparing to the initial shock, now I am just getting used to it and hopefully will go through it in one piece.

Photo credits: Sherry Cai
Photo credits: Sherry Cai

Xiaozhe (Sherry) Cai is a 3rd year PhD student at Centre for Applied linguistics. She is learning in the wonderful world of intercultural communication and researching mixed-culture groupwork in Higher Education. Love traveling and music. Wish to see the world, haven’t achieved much but working on it! And most importantly, 100% foodie!