What I Wish Someone Had Told Me in My First Year — Part 2

The Research Hive Scholars continue their reflection on things they wish they had known in their first year with fourth year, part-time researcher Rachel Wood‘s words of wisdom:

I should probably start by saying this is something of a tricky topic for me. My first year didn’t exactly go as well as it could have, and I don’t want to terrify people with a horror story! In fairness, a lot of the reasons why the first year wasn’t great for me were very much out of my hands. For example, I was mistakenly placed in the wrong department to begin with, which meant I didn’t receive the right information and missed induction. Hopefully no new Sussex researchers will be experiencing that problem! But thinking back I’ve realised that there are lots of things I know now, after three part time years, that would have helped me enormously had I been told them in my first year. I’ve tried to list a few of those things in this post.

1.  Check your University emails, go to everything, and talk to everyone.

This is really, really important, in the first term especially. It might seem like you don’t have time to spare from the library, but going to events and talking to people is equally productive. A network in your department or subject area is particularly important. If you don’t feel your department or subject area does enough to foster a doctoral community, talk with others about setting up events, or an online/actual space that might help provide a point of contact.

2.  If you are not funded and you need to work, study part time.

This is SO obvious to me now, but for some reason I thought I could manage a 30-40 hour pub job and a full time PhD in my first year. I thought I’d just push myself for the next three years and ‘get it done’. Turns out working till 1 am and being in the library at 9 am the next morning is not conducive to thoughtful study.

3.  It is essential that your PhD is really ‘you’.

Although I’m not sure if I would have listened to or understood this in my first year; I didn’t really know who I ‘was’ as an academic when I started, so I worked that out and then worked out my topic after (NB: this is not the best way to do things!).

4.  Work out a good system for taking notes really early on, and stick to it.

All those hours of reading and laborious hand written note taking in my first term are rather wasted on me now. Assume that you will forget everything you have read and write and file notes accordingly.

5.  Your supervisor is not an authority figure that you need to impress.

Your supervisor is there to help you, not examine you. So don’t try to present your ‘model student’ persona to them, be honest and tell them if you are struggling with anything. Also, it is your PhD so if you aren’t happy with your supervision, get advice and change it.

6.  Treat the PhD as a job.

I was actually told this one by my supervisor. However, I didn’t actually understand what it meant. Yes, create a routine for yourself and stick to your ‘working hours’ (and value proper time off too). But also, doing a PhD is career training for those who are pursuing an academic career. So you have to do much, much more than ‘just’ write a PhD (sorry!). Publishing, teaching, presenting and organising events are also essential for your academic CV.

Remember: The Hive Welcome Event & Social is this Thursday!

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