Reflections of a PhD Student: One Month In

In October, Warwick alumni Emily began her PhD at the Institute of Cancer Research, she shares her October reflections and advice here, one month into her studies.

By Emily Alger

A girl in a blue dress and graduation robes throwing a mortarboard in front of the Koan.
Emily graduated from Warwick this summer. Image: Emily Alger.

As I write this, I’m on my first ever conference in Cambridge – first attending a course on Dose-finding trials and then presenting my own work at a conference at the end of the week! I think this perfectly sums up my PhD experience so far – full of meeting new people, integrating myself within the academic community and learning the ropes of scientific research.

The month has flown past and (having reassuringly checked with my other friends undertaking PhDs), I’m not sure what I am doing, what the end goal is, or how really to get started on my next three years.

Here I want to share my takeaways from my first month on the job so, whether you are thinking of a PhD or you have just started, you can read my reflections.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

When you arrive, there is so much to learn and I for one can’t wait to get started. As a statistic’s student, I have already told my supervisor I want more Greek letters than real words in the papers I am reading and a mere four weeks in, it can sometimes feel like I’m ready to jump in and my PhD can’t keep up. At the same time, I am coming to realise you need the basics down before you make the breakthroughs. Four years is a long time; it is scary to commit and trust the process that you’ll have found your niche at the end. A month in, I’m keeping an open mind, learning what to come and spotting the areas I want to integrate within my PhD’s scope.

The month has flown past and (having reassuringly checked with my other friends undertaking PhDs), I’m not sure what I am doing, what the end goal is, or how really to get started on my next three years.

A girl with short brown hair studying at a laptop.
It’s important to make your PhD your own. Image: Emily Alger.

Take initiative

During my induction, we were reminded that this is your PhD and not your supervisors’. That can mean a lot of things: focussing on the research which matters to you, concentrating on your own personal growth and developing the path you want to follow. In a nutshell, be assertive – work with your supervisor and find the opportunities which are both within the scope of your PhD and lead to your own personal development. For me so far, I have been finding training courses which I passionately want to attend alongside the great courses my supervisor has recommended. Suggest courses you want to do, conferences you want to attend and ask your supervisor if you can go. Your work needs to be in the scope of your PhD but make the PhD yours. When you apply you might only  be given a few paragraphs to represent the whole four-year course, leave your mark on your PhD and make it identifiably yours.

Let yourself settle

When you start a PhD it’s all too easy to just think of the studying. However, when you clock off for the day, you’re no longer a PhD student but a new member of the town, settling into a new area where you may know little or no people. I’ve found that harder than I thought, often reminiscing back to my days at university. I have been making a few steps: joining local orchestras, meeting flat mates and old friends in the area. I’m not embarrassed to say I feel lonely at times, and often head home on weekends. The remedy I have found is doing stuff – fitting things in my diary and jumping into activities. It’s an approach which I reaped the rewards for at university and one which I’m investing in this time around again too.

An outdoor path with daffodils and trees either side. There are buildings and a blue sky in the background.
If you’re new to Warwick, make sure you take the time to settle into campus life. Image: University of Warwick.

As October draws to the end, I look towards November. Next month, I will be writing about my PhD experiences in November. In preparation, I have created some questions I think I will answer every month to watch my own progression, come back next month to see how I am getting on.

How are you feeling about your PhD?

A little nervous, there’s so much to learn I’m not sure how I will carve out my own niche within the field and integrate all the statistics I love within my PhD.

How are you settling into your new home?

I wish my PhD room felt more like home but I’m making good steps integrating myself within the local community. I’m excited to start my new Orchestra in a week’s time.

What do you want to improve by next month?

I really want to start getting into my reading, finding papers and coding up simulations which really excite me, and I can see becoming a big feature of my PhD thesis.

If you’ve just started your PhD at Warwick, there are plenty of posts on the PhD Life blog that can help you with settling in and the first few months of study. Take a look at what the Doctoral College can do for you and explore the blog here.

How would you answer Emily’s three questions above? How are you Feeling about your PhD? How are you settling into your new home? What do you want to improve by next month? Let us know your answers by tweeting us @ResearchEx or by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary.

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