Image of Amanda smiling

August 4, 2021, by indybamra1

How To Prepare for a PhD

By, Amanda Kale – PhD Creative Writing

Having just begun my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham in February 2021, I certainly don’t have the widest breadth of experience, yet. However, I have learned a great amount these past few months, and would love to share some advice with anyone willing to follow in my footsteps!

To begin, why go for a PhD?

I will start by saying a PhD was never in my five (or even ten) year plan. But after completing my masters degree at the University of Edinburgh, I knew teaching higher education and engaging with a community of writers, researchers, scholars, and other creatives was the exact home for my career.

As a twenty-seven-year-old, I was often told I’m “too young” to pursue doctoral study. I would advise anyone in my position to ignore this opinion, as it’s rather limiting. There’s no “minimum age” to begin your research – and if nothing is holding you back from beginning your dream career, why put it off?

But what about COVID?

I entered this programme, not only in the middle of a global pandemic but right at the start of another lockdown. Therefore – it felt like I had very little community and very little guidance.

But this wasn’t further from the truth! To anyone worried about starting doctoral study under these circumstances, let me be the proof that it’s not impossible to gain exactly what you need – it just takes a different approach.

It does require a little more creativity, be more proactive on your part to insert yourself into conversation and meetings, etc. It takes “independent study and research” to a whole new level. But on the other hand, that’s what being an academic researcher is all about – learning to manage your time and go after opportunities on your own, sometimes even creating your own opportunities! The University has a plethora of resources for postgraduate researchers – it just takes a little digging to find exactly what suits your needs.

The community here is active, engaged, and welcoming – so don’t shy away!

There’s no correct way to be a PhD student

I began feeling like I needed a handbook on the “correct way” to act, behave, produce work, and so forth. The term “imposter syndrome” comes to mind, and I had it bad!

However, I quickly realised I wasn’t alone. In reaching out to supervisors, administration, and other peers, it became apparent that undertaking doctoral research is entirely what you make of it. Every person takes up the task differently, and there are no wrong answers. However you decide to tackle this beast, it will always be correct.

I will also add: don’t limit yourself! Be willing to be flexible, not only on your research topic and project but your working lifestyle. You won’t be 100% every day! Be easy on yourself, stay organised, and take it one day at a time.

Last-minute advice

Start early. Start reading early, start writing early, be in active communication with not just your supervisors, but your peers, other administration, and (importantly) the Careers and Employability service. If you start thinking early about these things, then you’ll progress a lot further by the end of your study, and have more to show for it.

Stay organised. Taking a week (or two) to really gather all your tasks and research and come up with a realistic game plan to accomplish it all, can save you in the end. Don’t procrastinate on this; it could be a lifesaver.

And have fun! This should be research into a passion project, at its heart. I think if you enjoy what you do, you’ll thrive.

If you’re an undergraduate or masters student, check out our Thinking about a PhD webpage. If you’re already studying a PhD, you can explore your career options in academia and industry here.

Posted in Careers AdviceFurther studyPostgraduate Taught Students