(Apologies to anyone who saw the original post for any major differences – somehow WordPress deleted it and so I’m having to rewrite from memory)
In October 2015, I officially started my PhD. It wasn’t always in my plan but it became increasingly clear to me that research and writing were things I enjoyed. I stayed at the university where I did my undergraduate and my Masters, and I went straight from one to the other. I was also funded by the Scottish AHRC (SGSAH) for my research – this means I can’t give advice about, for example, being an unfunded student or a student parent – until last year, my pathway was fairly straightforward! Hopefully this blogpost will contain some useful advice though!
- Where you apply is a pretty big decision – I only applied to Glasgow, and that worked for me – I knew I got on with my supervisors, and that they were a good fit. I also already had support networks in place and didn’t want to have to spend time settling in a new place, instead of just being able to throw myself right in. I think it also made securing funding easier – which in turn made the whole process of doing the PhD easier! Aside from teaching, which I took up in my second year, I was able to give up my part time job which meant I had more time available.
- What to research? Unlike in STEM subjects, you will probably have to propose your own topic and area, which is where being familiar with your potential supervisors work helps. There are projects with pre-attached funding, and these might be right for you, though they tend to have their own deadlines. My PhD research has grown from my undergrad and Masters dissertations; other people have done something completely different. The most important thing is to propose something that you can see yourself still being interested in three (or four, or however many) years down the line – no one can sustain an interest in one thing all the time for that long, but it really does help if you actually care what you’re reading about and if you aren’t just doing it for the sake of it.
- Ask other people who are already doing or who have done doctorates what their experiences were like – although also be aware that many things have changed, particularly regarding funding.
- Write down deadlines so you don’t miss them! This is especially relevant for funding applications – you might think you can remember, but you don’t want to miss out because of a deadline, or technology issues.
DOING THE PHD
- Have a good support network around you! I was fortunate in that I found various support networks, both within and outwith academia, fairly easily. I was able to keep doing some things from before the PhD, though I had a lot less time available than I did as an undergrad.
- On support networks, Twitter and other forms of virtual support can be invaluable – hashtags like #phdlife and #medievaltwitter can be really helpful, even if slightly time-consuming. I’ve also found it useful for keeping up with people and developments while being ill.
- Work out where you work best – and remember that this varies for everyone – some people can work from home, some, the library. Others prefer coffee shops and sometimes a shared office is provided.This can take some trial and error – I used to mostly work in my office in order to try and create some distance between ‘work’ and ‘home’, and because I liked having access to a computer with internet.
- Make use of your supervisors – it’s what they are there for!
CONFERENCES AND PUBLICATIONS
- Going to conferences is worthwhile – if you’re presenting, you can often get funding for these, though that’s often retrospective reimbursement. If there are local conferences or ones that aren’t too expensive, I think it’s worth going to them if you can, particularly if you think you might want to go in the future – it’s how I went to the Gender Medieval Studies Conference (still probably the best conference I’ve been to) and the Leeds IMC! I wrote a post a few years ago about my experiences of conferences up until that point, which you can read here: https://intheacademichabit.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/surviving-academic-conferences-as-an-introvert/
- If you get the opportunity to organise a conference and have the time to do so, I’d really recommend it! I helped organise an interdisciplinary conference in my first year and not only did it mean I got to learn how to organise that kind of thing, I got to hear lots of really interesting papers!
- Publication during the PhD is something that is becoming increasingly stressed – I’ll be getting published later this year in the Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies. My advice on this is to try and turn something you’ve already written into an article, as that will be much less stressful! You can read more here: https://debbiescancerblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/ama-publishing/