Throwback Post! Transitioning from second to third year: Reflections and advice

Moving from second to third year of a PhD is a significant milestone on the PhD journey. Typically most PhD’s in the UK are around 3 years long and therefore the final year is a busy period! It can be a time of mixed emotions. Students may experience feelings of achievement alongside anxieties about deadlines, thesis submission and future plans. Sophie draws upon her own experience to share her thoughts and advice for transitioning from second to third year.

Unlike my undergraduate degree, I haven’t paid too much attention to moving from one year to the next during my PhD. I have instead focused on the progression of my studies as a marker of time. However, it wasn’t until October at the start of my third year when someone referred to me as a ‘final year student’ that I felt a little panicked. I have provided some reflections of my own experiences of the transition from second to third below and you may find that you have experienced similar thoughts and feelings. I have also provided examples of small actions that I have taken to ease the move into my final year.

Personal development opportunities

You may find that the third year of your PhD provides opportunities for skills and career development. Being a third-year PhD student has paved the way for some fantastic opportunities such as teaching undergraduates (something perhaps I would have felt less confident about doing this time two years ago). Another notable difference is that I have also found myself planning which academic conference to attend in 2020 to showcase my results which is very exciting!

Planning for the future and careers

You may find that the third year brings along thoughts on job hunting and careers. Although I still feel like I have a long way to go until I hand in my thesis, this comment was thought-provoking for me. I decided to start reading about research positions after my PhD. It also prompted me to learn about how to structure an academic CV. I am also planning to contact the careers and skills department for advice. I have decided to research workshops available at the university on thesis submission and viva preparation. All of these small actions have made me feel a little more in control of the future.

Thinking practically

You may start to get very practical about what you can actually achieve in the time you have left. You may find that your perspective begins to change on getting studies finished rather than adding to your list of potential learning opportunities. Additionally, you may think about publishing your work. Something that I have found really useful is creating a timeline from now until the time I plan to submit my thesis. I have also found creating a template document for my thesis chapters really helpful and this put me more in control.

Talk to peers

As the third year brings new challenges, you may find that talking to peers that have been through the process or who are going through the same stage as you is invaluable. If you share your concerns, more often than not someone will have experienced the same feelings too. Another important tip is to try not to compare your own progress to others as everyone’s progress will be different. Universities often run informal drop-in sessions for postgraduates (such as PG tips at the University of Warwick) to meet other postgraduate students and discuss any issues related to studying. If you are feeling stressed, increasing your daily activity might help as well as eating healthy. Universities also have wellbeing services you can contact.

Final words:

The third year of your academic journey brings a host of different things to consider alongside your academic work such as; conferences, future career prospects and publications. However, with a bit of organisation, positivity and learning from peers and supervisors, you may look back on your that year as the best one yet!

Would you like to share your experiences of transitioning between years during your PhD? Which one did you find the most challenging? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

Sophie Clohessy is a third-year PhD student in the Applied Psychology team, WMG. Her research is investigating eating behaviours in the workplace. She has a background in Health Psychology and is passionate about healthy eating and exercise for wellbeing. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ClohessyS

Cover image: achieve-woman-girl-jumping-running-1822503 / sasint / CC0 1.0

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