The Research Hive Scholars’ three-part reflection on what they wish they had known in their first year concludes with the excellent advice of sixth year, part-time researcher Charlotte Morris:
1. Get going with your writing!
You will be amazed at how quickly the next few years will go (even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time). It’s best not to see writing as something that happens at the final stage but as a process which will help you all the way through to develop your ideas and research. I have been a doctoral research part-time for six years and am in the final stages of writing up and am now revisiting some of my earlier writing and amazingly enough some of it is useful – I just wish I had done more and got going earlier.
2. Learn how to manage your supervisor!
It took me a couple of years and a change of supervisors before I learned how to do this. It’s good to have a conversation with your supervisor in the first semester if possible to establish what you both expect, how you are going to communicate, how often and for how long you are going to meet. Now I know to set an agenda for each meeting and to take with me all the questions, whether big or small, which I want to ask. I ensure we set a date for the next meeting and follow up with a reminder or two! I also take along my plan for what I want to achieve by the next supervision and set myself deadlines – agreeing these with my supervisors makes it much more likely that I will stick to them.
3. Make the most of the opportunities to develop.
This university has many opportunities to develop personally and professionally as well as intellectually and to engage with other doctoral researchers. I have enjoyed my time here a lot more since I started signing up for anything and everything – my CV is looking good, I have met some great people, have gained confidence, benefited from handy tips and advice and have had conversations which have really helped me to progress with my doctorate. As well as making the most of opportunities here through the library, careers centre, Doctoral School, TLDU and ITS, it has really helped getting onto as many email lists as possible so I always know when relevant seminars, conferences and training opportunities are coming up and can keep up-to-date with my field of study.
4. Manage your references.
I have made the classic mistake of not managing my references from the very beginning, keeping a clear record of everything I have read, always with the date, publisher, place of publication and page number. This means I now have an unenviable task of having lots of references to double-check which is very frustrating and time consuming at the final stage when I have better things I could be doing.
5. Be kind to yourself.
I wish I hadn’t spent so much time feeling guilty and worrying about whether I was working hard enough or was good enough to be doing a PhD at all! Remember it’s normal to have moments (or even months) of self-doubt but the highs are worth it – the people you meet, conversations you have, the moments of illumination in your learning, the breakthroughs in your writing. Do pace yourself, find a working pattern that works for you and don’t feel bad if you need a break from it or need to read something completely unrelated – in fact this can be very beneficial for your learning. And do reward yourself for all your achievements however small they seem – sometimes small steps such as writing a paragraph, recruiting another participant, finding a key article or having a positive meeting with your supervisor can feel like a major breakthrough so enjoy it, it’s all moving in the right direction!
Remember: The Hive Welcome Event & Social is tomorrow!