It’s the start of the new academic year and that means the start of a PhD for some students. Congratulations! In today’s blog, blogger Lucia writes about her perspectives of starting a PhD at Warwick as an international student. Hear her top three tips for finding your feet.
For most of us, the PhD journey is an extremely lonely one. For me, having moved from another country and knowing very little about Warwick and the student community, it was even more important to find little clusters of people who I could socialise with. We know that usually student societies are more geared towards undergraduate students, but there is nothing keeping you from making friends at different levels of uni life! I myself joined a couple, but I found that, for me, events that were planned to cater to postgraduate students, and, more specifically, PGR students, were the places where I met most of the people in my social circle.
But do not underestimate the value of meeting people who think very differently from you and have different tastes, that’s where you actually thrive!
The Library’s Postgraduate Community Engagement Team hosts several events in their main spaces: The PG Hub and Wolfson Research Exchange. Their many events (both in person before the pandemic and their online versions) have helped me keep sane and meet some amazing people. For those of us who do not have a dedicated office space, the Wolfson Research Exchange section of the main Library, where we could work and take little breaks to chat with peers over a cup of coffee or tea, proved an invaluable community-building space, that I know for a fact many people at the university do not know about.
Other opportunities could be sport clubs, quiz nights, taking part in the chorus or orchestra, or maybe even more specifically joining a departmental reading group or anywhere else where you think you can find some like-minded people. But do not underestimate the value of meeting people who think very differently from you and have different tastes, that’s where you actually thrive!
Get to Know your Supervisors and Support System
Your supervisor (or supervisors, if you have more than one) will be with you throughout your PhD journey and beyond. It is important to build a good relationship with them, mostly because they may be your first point of contact at the university and in your new process. Coming from abroad and having only met my supervisor briefly before starting my PhD, to get to know her better, to match each other’s expectations and understand each other’s approaches to working, supervision, deadlines, and also, more importantly, to establish a healthy and open relationship with the person who’s going to guide me through the next years of my life in a new country was incredibly important for me to ground myself as a PhD student. Don’t forget other people at your department, school or research clusters who you’ll meet along the way and will prove essential to settling in in your new environment. No researcher is an island!
Find Yourself in your Surroundings
In my first year, I would often take advantage of little breaks in my work to go on walks around campus, whenever I felt too overwhelmed I looked for the woods or other more natural spaces to soothe my anxiety.
Establishing a positive and productive work environment wherever you are is essential to having a successful PhD journey. The campus has several working spaces you can take advantage of if you feel like changing around so as not to feel stationary. The Library offers several working spaces across campus, some student accommodations have shared working and study spaces for their tenants, as well as hubs and cafés around where you can see people while also focusing on your work. As we all know, it is important to take breaks and explore your surroundings, to feel like you belong in those spaces. In my first year, I would often take advantage of little breaks in my work to go on walks around campus, whenever I felt too overwhelmed I looked for the woods or other more natural spaces to soothe my anxiety, and when I felt I needed inspiration I would look for the places where people hang out. I guess ultimately what I am trying to say is don’t act like you’re simply a tourist on campus, just on your way to somewhere else. Make use of that space and make it your own hometown.
Lúcia Collischonn is a third-year PhD student in Translation Studies at the Warwick Writing Programme. Lúcia is an award-losing literary translator, writer and language nerd. Her translation of Yoko Tawada’s Etüden im Schnee was published in 2019 in Brazil. You can find her ramblings on twitter @lucycolli.