Greetings from Jessica, your new blog editor! Here is a little account of my PhD journey so far and tips for early PhD researchers whose research plans lie in the hands of funding bodies…
I’m relatively fresh into the PhD journey — only four months in. Some days, it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. On others, it’s as though I can barely find my footing. In 2013 I arrived at the University of Warwick as an undergraduate with tunnel vision towards my ultimate life goal: a PhD. The road to achieving this was by no means easy. I spent the entirety of my undergraduate degree constructing a ‘perfect’ research CV, honing my writing techniques and reading extensively around my research interests. Behind the scenes, this work was time consuming and exhausting, but the actual process of achieving a PhD scholarship was relatively linear with a clear strategy: select an institution, contact a supervisor, write a research proposal, apply for funding and then await a response.
Of course, this process isn’t that simple for everybody. But for me, there was a very clearly defined path that I should follow. I adhered to this process exactly as it had been laid out and at the end of it I was thrilled to receive a four year scholarship that funded my Master’s degree and my PhD.
I’ve lost count of the number of research proposals I’ve submitted to various bodies and organisations at this point. The most recent have been distributed far beyond the remit of my comfort zone and are currently being read by funding commissions and institutions in the USA. My research is exploring the political and ethical implications of epigenetic research and fieldwork in the USA has always been a fundamental aspect of my research plans. Today, the direction of my fieldwork rests entirely in the hands of these external funding commissions and international universities. The direction of my research that I’ve been desperate to begin for years is once again, temporarily, out of my control.
This lack of direction is frustrating, but most of us have to sit and allow our research to be subject to bureaucratic processes at some point — or many points! Knowing how to handle this as a PhD student so early in the research journey can be difficult, as often your research questions, fieldwork locations or even your topic can be placed on hold whilst you wait for a funding outcome. Here are my three tips on how to spend your time whilst you await a response.
Firstly, make a ‘Plan B’. This a plan for the worst outcome scenario. I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time dwelling on this, but it’s useful to have a loose idea about what you’re going to do if you don’t receive the news you’re hoping for.
Secondly, place your energies somewhere productive. For example, if you can’t finesse the details of your methodology because your fieldwork location depends on how much funding you’re granted, then use this waiting period to redraft your literature review. Seize the aspects of your research that you can control.
Finally, make sure you take time to destress. It can sometimes feel as though your entire life rests on the outcome of your funding. At these times it is helpful to remind yourself that there is more to life than your PhD research and turn some of your focus to your non-academic pastimes. You could try a new form of exercise, take some extra time for your hobby or even learn some new recipes.
Waiting for funding decisions can feel frustrating. The trick is to not let it consume you by focusing your time and energy into pursuits that you can control.
Author’s note: As this my first blog post on PhD Life, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Sofia and everyone else who has put hard work into making this blog the wonderful space it is!