It blows my mind that I get to study for a living. It’s surreal and a dream come true. I can’t begin to describe how privileged I feel to have this opportunity. Getting to the stage where you’re taking on a PhD (and getting paid for it) takes serious effort, and I want to make the most of this amazing opportunity to do what I love, so I’m the ground running from day one (this coming Monday!).
Over the last couple of months I’ve been giving this some thought, reading about other people’s experiences and reflecting on what worked well during my MSc. I think I have it nailed (maybe. I hope), so I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing to prepare.
start building a relationship with your supervisor
All PhD students have a supervisor who they work closely with through their research. Your supervisor is going to be a seriously important person in your life, so it’s important to build a good relationship with them. I’ve had a bit of a head start on this one because my supervisor Richard also supervised my MSc research, and he has been one of the people who has encouraged me the most. Over the last year we’ve caught up regularly and I really trust him to steer me in the right direction (and tell me when I’ve gone off course!).
understand the format of your course
The format of PhD programmes can vary from place to place. At Birkbeck I’m expected to complete an MPhil in management in the first year, which will then be upgraded to a PhD on completion of my research. This means that I’m being eased into life as a full time student because I have some taught units in the first year and will be in a classroom a couple of days a week. I’m really glad I’ve got this opportunity to refine my skills as a researcher, but different institutions might do things differently. Of course, this also means I have courses to prep for, so I’m making sure I’m familiar with the syllabus for each one and know how they’re assessed so I can plan my time. Oh and sourcing second hand textbooks (I never buy new, and scored one of my texts for this term for a bargain £3.50!).
create a space to study
gone are the days when PhD students got offices, and although there’s some shared space (and of course the library), I like having my own desk. Until recently we didn’t have any desk space in our house, and I knew working at the kitchen counter was a no go, so I’ve taken the opportunity to create my ideal workspace! Tucked in a weird little alcove in our bedroom, right in front of a window it’s the perfect spot to get stuff done. Ive invested in a decent lamp, chair (who knew desk chairs were so expensive!) and some other bits to make the space comfortable and practical. Plus it’s been a great excuse to hang some of the art work we’ve been sitting on for ages!
get a planner
whether you prefer digital or paper, when you’re juggling loads of deadlines and commitments you need a planner. I opted for a massive gold planner from Kikki K to keep me organised, it’s big enough for me to schedule studying, work, blogging and training and has loads of space to jot down notes, ideas and things I have to remember.
build a routine
Going from a full time 9-5 job to full time study is daunting, especially when you don’t have loads of contact hours (I have about 6 per week this term, plus supervisor meetings) and most of those are in the evening (Birkbeck teaches on an alternative timetable), so there’s a high risk I could procrastinate the days away! To get over this I’m making the effort to schedule each week in advance - when I’ll study, work, blog, train and deal with other projects. Ive set myself a clear time to get up each day and a lunch slot so that I’ll be a productive as possible!
Finally, even with all this prep, I want to try and be relaxed, flexible and open minded. Change is something I find tricky, and I don’t really know what’s ahead, so I need to give myself some leeway to respond to things as they arise and to enjoy the journey!
Do you have any tips for hitting the ground running?
*images: Anna Rachel Photography