Like most things in life, a PhD is full of a variety of ups and downs. This blog takes you through some of mine from my 1st year, and my next blog will be about my ups and downs from my 2nd year. There are some things (such as imposter syndrome, travel, and money) which are issues that have run through my PhD, and I will write separate posts on those.
Starting a PhD
I found the first three or four months fairly challenging before I felt I really settled into the PhD vibe. This was partly due to my living situation as I had made what seemed like a good choice at the time (a cheap lodging near campus) which turned out not to be a good fit for me. Once I had better accommodation sorted, I felt much better. Another reason it took me a while to settle in was that I had been out of academia for a few years, and I was aware that I was around a decade older than people who were further along the PhD journey than me. This got better over time as I got used to my new position and realised that everyone is on their own journey and the importance of not comparing yourself to others.
This is one of the biggest and best highs for me. I love how much flexibility I get with my PhD. For the most part, I can set my own hours and work where I want. This has really helped me to make sure that my PhD works within my life, rather than consumes it. Of course, the flexibility works both ways and I have had some very long days and had to work the occasional weekend, but overall I love having that control. For some people, this flexibility may make it harder to get into a good work routine and may decrease motivation. If that’s the case for you, I recommend a self-imposed work structure which works for you.
Working on my own studies
My job before starting my PhD was working on a variety of studies as a clinical studies officer (like a research assistant but based in an NHS trust), and while I enjoyed it, I wanted to work on MY research. My PhD means that I am in control, and I do all aspects of the research from the initial design right through to publication. I am a bit more used to that now, but it really was one of the best things about my first year. Also, and this is where it links with flexibility above, while I have a supervisor, I don’t have a line manager as such. Therefore I am my own boss, and that is a really lovely feeling. The downside to this is that it can be isolating. There are times when I miss working with a team of people. My office mates are great and very supportive, but it is different to being within a team where you are all working together.
I ended my first year on a high when I passed my confirmation (also known as a transfer). This process involved writing a detailed report about my plan for my PhD and how much I had done to date, and a viva with two professors from my department. I was highly anxious about it beforehand as I knew it would test me on my weaker areas. However, I did well and got some great feedback. It really helped me to see how far I had come over the year and set me up for a good second year.