Unlike starting an Undergraduate or a Master’s course, starting a PhD can be very lonely because, well, you’re the only person doing your research. There’s no standard reading list, no organised seminars or lectures, and no official course mates who you can sympathise with when you don’t understand a topic. Put simply, no two PhDs are the same, and while that might sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be.
By Ellie King, Blog Editor.
Different but the Same
The postgraduate research community is a large one, but it is far from homogenous. With different funders (or self-funding), part-time, full-time, international and home students, PhDers are incredibly diverse. Not to mention the complete diversity of topics being researched, which makes sense if you think about how we’re all making an original contribution to knowledge. But that doesn’t mean we’re any less of a community, and there are several things we all go through. From the stress of an upgrade to the daunting viva at the end, from the relationship with our supervisors to the endless applications for conferences and papers. This unites us. The university offers so much support and ability to bring this community together, from Write Here Write Now, to the Ask A Postgrad platform, and even to this blog. Just because your research is largely on your own, it doesn’t mean you are.
No mid-term essays and marks mean no-one to compare yourself to. It doesn’t matter who got a first and who got a 2:1, because PhDs are only judged (officially) by a pass or fail. This can be scary if you’re someone like me who thrives on getting regular feedback and official signs that you’re doing okay, but in reality, it means you don’t have to worry about comparisons or feeling like you’re lagging behind. Your research is your research, and the progress you make on it isn’t compared to anyone else. Take this in your stride and feel comfortable knowing that as long as you and your supervisors are happy with your progress, then that’s all that matters.
A Fresh Perspective
Being the only person immersed in your research can be a godsend when you’re looking for feedback and opinions on your work. Having colleagues and friends who know very little about your work when you’re trying to bounce ideas off them. They may provide you with perspectives you’ve never thought of, and they’re very good at picking up when something doesn’t make sense in a piece of writing or a presentation. Being so close to your work means you can fall into the idea that because you understand it, everyone else surely must do too, but that’s not the case. Having someone go ‘sorry that makes no sense’ gives you an opportunity to step back, get a bit of distance, and reconfigure. This has helped me countless times when my office colleagues have said ‘Ellie, you’re talking a load of rubbish, try and explain it better’ about something that I thought was as obvious as 2+2.
If you’re just starting your PhD journey, these are good things to bear in mind. It can feel daunting and overwhelming at times, but there are so many people here to help you. If you’re struggling, do reach out to someone in the community. Chances are, someone else is feeling similar, or at least has done in the past. You are not alone.
If you want to hear about more PhD experiences, why not have a look at our post from blogger Manpreet about starting her PhD in a pandemic. If you want to read about other experiences of PhD researchers, check out the Your Experiences section of our blog. If you feel like you have something to share with the PhD community, then you can guest write on the PhD life blog. Simply email editor Ellie at email@example.com to share your ideas.
How do you feel about your PhD? What makes it unique? Leave us a comment below, tweet us @ResearchEx or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed this post, please give us a like and follow the blog for more regular PhD content.