June 27, 2012, by ICCSR
One Year On… PhD Students Reflect (honestly!)
When we were asked to write a blog on our reflections of our first year as PhD students we were slightly overwhelmed with the possibility of it. Should we offer sound advice for next year’s newbies? Should we be totally honest about the ups and downs? In the end we have tried to do both….
1. Research is a social enterprise: Whilst there is a lot of solitary reading and writing that goes on during the PhD (most of your time will be spent alone, in a room, staring at a screen!) it is the times when you are chatting to others that you learn the most. Bear in mind though that transitioning from ‘real’ work can be a nightmare, and can’t be taken for granted. Getting used to working (and believing) in a collaborative community after years in a competitive environment takes some getting used to. The academic environment can be incredibly collaborative and attending events and sharing ideas with others is a great experience- put yourself out there!
2. Develop a conference plan: There are an impressive range of CSR-related conferences and Doctoral colloquiums that run throughout the year (including the ICCSR conference). We think it’s really useful to identify conferences of interest early on in the PhD process to know where to focus your research budget.
3. Learn to criticise and be criticised: Being challenged on our research has, at times during this first year, felt quite personal. But it shouldn’t. The PhD is a work in progress and receiving constructive criticism is extremely useful in shaping your research direction. Learning to critique others is also a key academic skill and an essential part in developing the capacity for critical thought.
4. Social media is amazing: Setting up Twitter accounts early on into the PhD process has allowed us to stay up-to-date on debates, ‘follow’ key researchers and interact with other academics in an informal, accessible way. You can always see how we do it at @Sarah_CSR and @genderCSR
5. Keep a diary: From day one, every time you have an interesting idea, write it down. N.B. sometimes this might happen in the middle of the night/ at dinner with your spouse. But you then have an ‘ideas document’ which you can draw upon, and reflect on how much the research has progressed (and it will!)
6. Have an ‘elevator pitch’: It can be hard coming to terms with the fact that nobody (OK, if not nobody then a very small amount of people!) except you and your supervisors are interested in your work. And, on the odd occasion that somebody else does express interest, you better be ready because you only get one shot, and it better take less than 30 seconds. Whatever stage you are at, it’s really useful to condense your research into a jargon-free, two line ‘pitch’. This simple summary is really handy when you meet people, both formally and informally, to understand what it is you are doing for the next three years!
So there we go! We leave the last word to our colleague who writes:
“Reflections on the first year of my PhD? First third, awful. Second third, better. Last third, fabulous. What do I wish I’d known before I started? That if you make it to the end of the first year (and can’t say I was convinced of this during the first third), you’ll start panicking because two years doesn’t seem like enough time to finish, AND you’ll thank God you stuck it out because it feels fantastic!”