In this episode we welcome new PGRs to the start of the academic year with a special episode on starting your research degree with contributions from Catherine Cartwright, Jamie Cranston, Edward Mills, Victoria Omotoso, Warren Speed and Emily Taylor, talking about their experiences of starting their research degrees, and advice they have for those joining our community this September.

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Podcast transcript

 

1
00:00:09,000 --> 00:00:13,000
Hello and welcome to R, D and The Inbetweens.

2
00:00:13,000 --> 00:00:32,000
I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

3
00:00:32,000 --> 00:00:39,000
Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of R, D and the In Betweens to celebrate the start of the academic year at the University of Exeter.

4
00:00:39,000 --> 00:00:45,000
We've got lots of new PGRs joining us. And so I wanted to do an episode that was about getting started with your research degree.

5
00:00:45,000 --> 00:00:49,000
So what I've done over the past few weeks is I've spoken to a variety of our postgraduate

6
00:00:49,000 --> 00:00:53,000
researchers and asked them what it was like for them starting a research degree.

7
00:00:53,000 --> 00:01:02,000
And what advice they'd give to someone coming in. But before we dispense with the advice, let's start with a warm welcome.

8
00:01:02,000 --> 00:01:06,000
I'm Emily. I'm just going into the second year of my PhD

9
00:01:06,000 --> 00:01:10,000
And I really want to say a big welcome to the University of Exeter.

10
00:01:10,000 --> 00:01:17,000
Shame can't do it in person at this time, but it doesn't mean that you're welcome any less.

11
00:01:17,000 --> 00:01:22,000
And I hope you have a great time. Congratulations as well.

12
00:01:22,000 --> 00:01:28,000
And on achieving your goal, getting the place.

13
00:01:28,000 --> 00:01:35,000
So let's start by talking about how does it feel to start a research degree. Here 4 of our PGRs

14
00:01:35,000 --> 00:01:42,000
Catherine Cartwright, Edward Mills, Victoria Omotoso, and Warren Speed talk about their feelings of nervousness,

15
00:01:42,000 --> 00:01:49,000
disorientation and uncertainty during those first few months and indeed that first year.

16
00:01:49,000 --> 00:01:58,000
Well, I had said it's pretty disorientating coming to what is a massive university,

17
00:01:58,000 --> 00:02:08,000
much busier than what I was usde to on, my M.A., which was on a kind of side campus that where I was.

18
00:02:08,000 --> 00:02:20,000
And it's just remembering what it's like to be new somewhere and be new at something intimidating is how I describe it, actually.

19
00:02:20,000 --> 00:02:24,000
I spent a year out of academia doing teaching.

20
00:02:24,000 --> 00:02:31,000
I was very enthusiastic about getting back into it. But I was also nervous that I might not have a clue what I was actually doing.

21
00:02:31,000 --> 00:02:39,000
It's a whole research thing. I was very lucky to get very good support from the staff, from the Doctoral College here at Exeter and also from my supervisors.

22
00:02:39,000 --> 00:02:48,000
But. I think it is a very natural thing to feel to feel nervous about starting a degree

23
00:02:48,000 --> 00:02:53,000
So at best, it was all quite uncertain. Of course, everyone's really excited to start a PhD

24
00:02:53,000 --> 00:03:06,000
But for me personally, I didn't I can't really comprehend what that meant in terms of how to kind of kick it off, kick off this PhD journey

25
00:03:06,000 --> 00:03:15,000
I think the first thing that was super helpful for me was having first contact with my supervisors.

26
00:03:15,000 --> 00:03:21,000
It was tricky at the beginning trying to navigate what it was actually trying to do.

27
00:03:21,000 --> 00:03:23,000
I had no idea what I was doing my PhD in.

28
00:03:23,000 --> 00:03:30,000
But I don't think you really do have an idea of what you want to do a PhD in, especially with social sciences and in my

29
00:03:30,000 --> 00:03:36,000
And for me, until you get into your second year and you really start thinking about the questions

30
00:03:36,000 --> 00:03:41,000
that you need to ask or what it is you're looking for properly and you get into it.

31
00:03:41,000 --> 00:03:46,000
But having a great supervisor supporting it is great.

32
00:03:46,000 --> 00:03:55,000
I've got brilliant one. He's really supportive. So speak to your supervisor speak to your personal tutor, the personal tutors, they've heard everything.

33
00:03:55,000 --> 00:04:03,000
So don't be afraid to speak to them. The other thing is, is when you your first year is always gonna be an absolute mess.

34
00:04:03,000 --> 00:04:06,000
Well, for me, it for a lot of my friends. It was anyway. We're not really sure what we're doing.

35
00:04:06,000 --> 00:04:13,000
We did a lit review. Bits of introduction. Little bits of questions of methods and application forms, whatever.

36
00:04:13,000 --> 00:04:19,000
That's what the first year like the first year is just meh. The second is hard.

37
00:04:19,000 --> 00:04:23,000
I found because that's usually when you start doing data collection and it can be really difficult.

38
00:04:23,000 --> 00:04:34,000
And don't underestimate data collection and do not underestimate how long it can take to organise to find participants to get involved in research.

39
00:04:34,000 --> 00:04:36,000
Think what Warren's saying is really poignant.

40
00:04:36,000 --> 00:04:44,000
You know that first year is challenging you're finding the direction of your research or trying to find a narrow down what it is that you're doing.

41
00:04:44,000 --> 00:04:49,000
And so it has a lot of challenges in learning new skills in terms of managing your time,

42
00:04:49,000 --> 00:04:58,000
but also learning new research skills and learning to to sit in that uncertainty and how to be productive within it.

43
00:04:58,000 --> 00:05:06,000
And we've got some great tips from Catherine and Edward about things you can do in that first year to help you to use Warren's word,

44
00:05:06,000 --> 00:05:13,000
organise the mess in that first term and ongoing.

45
00:05:13,000 --> 00:05:19,000
I think it's really useful to keep some sort of diary or journal, which you don't have to write much in it.

46
00:05:19,000 --> 00:05:29,000
But what I kept note of was what I did each day, because it's very easy to feel like you haven't been doing anything or you haven't achieved anything.

47
00:05:29,000 --> 00:05:34,000
But you can look back and you go. Oh, yeah, of course. I took that training course.

48
00:05:34,000 --> 00:05:40,000
I spent like two hours figuring out how to use this database. Oh, it's the library.

49
00:05:40,000 --> 00:05:50,000
Oh, I did this. And so when that kind of little telling of voice in your head says that you haven't done anything,

50
00:05:50,000 --> 00:05:54,000
you can look back and go, oh, well, actually, I've done a lot.

51
00:05:54,000 --> 00:06:01,000
And that  I stopped it from while I started it back during lockdown.

52
00:06:01,000 --> 00:06:08,000
And during this time. And it gives me a certain structure and boundaries.

53
00:06:08,000 --> 00:06:15,000
The way that I dealt with a lot of those nerves was to just dive headfirst into doing PhD

54
00:06:15,000 --> 00:06:24,000
The advice I was given from the start, which I think is is good advice, is to write from the beginning, something you'll hear a lot in humanities

55
00:06:24,000 --> 00:06:27,000
in particular, but I think it's important in sciences, too.

56
00:06:27,000 --> 00:06:33,000
It's very tempting to think of your first year with your research year, or even of your first month as your research month.

57
00:06:33,000 --> 00:06:40,000
Oh, I've not got anything to write about. What could I possibly do at this stage apart from read things?

58
00:06:40,000 --> 00:06:49,000
And to an extent, that's true. But what I found myself doing was writing something in response to a specific bit

59
00:06:49,000 --> 00:06:53,000
of primary reading I had done. It didn't really matter what I was writing.

60
00:06:53,000 --> 00:06:56,000
And then a couple of weeks in, I met with my supervisors again and we said, Okay. Yep.

61
00:06:56,000 --> 00:07:02,000
Can you work this up into an extended version of your research proposal, which you've submitted before

62
00:07:02,000 --> 00:07:09,000
you started your PhD obviously. And that was basically my way of dealing with the nerves of.

63
00:07:09,000 --> 00:07:17,000
writing in response to a prompt that I had set myself. So that's about actually starting the research degree and starting the research.

64
00:07:17,000 --> 00:07:24,000
But what about building a community and making Connections with other researchers?

65
00:07:24,000 --> 00:07:35,000
Let's hear from Victoria, Warren. Emily and Catherine about their experience of networking and building Connections and building a community.

66
00:07:35,000 --> 00:07:44,000
I came from London and I'm sure there'll be PhDs coming from all over the country or internationally even.

67
00:07:44,000 --> 00:07:58,000
But a PhD can be a really isolating. And I know in the first few months I was here, I felt horrible genuinely because I just had no network.

68
00:07:58,000 --> 00:08:05,000
I didn't really know anybody. I didn't know other PhDs. And I was feeling like, oh, what have I done?

69
00:08:05,000 --> 00:08:12,000
Like, I've just come to a completely different city and I don't know anybody and say it was very

70
00:08:12,000 --> 00:08:18,000
you can imagine my joy when I discovered kind of you know things like the Postgrads Society,

71
00:08:18,000 --> 00:08:24,000
which was great in just having that kind of social aspect.

72
00:08:24,000 --> 00:08:28,000
And yeah. And seeking that out. And I, I mean, if there's one thing I would have done,

73
00:08:28,000 --> 00:08:38,000
would have I wish I sought so kind of those kind of social societies and like those social events that the college have hosted,

74
00:08:38,000 --> 00:08:41,000
I wish I sort that out earlier than I did.

75
00:08:41,000 --> 00:08:48,000
It would have saved me a lot of. Sadness in the beginning and loneliness, I guess.

76
00:08:48,000 --> 00:08:55,000
But yet, like, really kind of seek out, seek out having other PhDs around you.

77
00:08:55,000 --> 00:09:04,000
And I found that very helpful throughout. Even now, as I was saying, and I'm finishing, I still find that network so helpful.

78
00:09:04,000 --> 00:09:08,000
Just for your well-being and just to know that we're all in the same boat.

79
00:09:08,000 --> 00:09:13,000
We're all trying to kind of navigate these PhDs and just.

80
00:09:13,000 --> 00:09:23,000
Yeah, having that kind of network is. Yeah, I found it so helpful and very beneficial to my well-being.

81
00:09:23,000 --> 00:09:29,000
Not enough conversations happen. Just general conversations about how well people are doing or.

82
00:09:29,000 --> 00:09:33,000
Oh, how you work. Or research is getting on and doing.

83
00:09:33,000 --> 00:09:40,000
A PhD can be a very, very lonely, solitary place and very difficult for quite a lot of us.

84
00:09:40,000 --> 00:09:47,000
I would say go out there, start to speak to other people, make some friends, get involved in things like I do and the doctoral college,

85
00:09:47,000 --> 00:09:54,000
get involved in things with Student Guild as a PGR, but do something.

86
00:09:54,000 --> 00:09:57,000
Don't just sit in your office or sit at home and do nothing and just work.

87
00:09:57,000 --> 00:10:08,000
You need to. Go find something fun and speak to human beings and also make time for yourself and for connecting other PGR students.

88
00:10:08,000 --> 00:10:15,000
That is so important. And since I started, I have been lucky enough to be part of a group of PGR students, too.

89
00:10:15,000 --> 00:10:22,000
And we meet regularly sort of weekly. And although it can be tricky fitting it around all the other stuff

90
00:10:22,000 --> 00:10:28,000
It's just been a lifeline and a really great place to share ideas and share worries

91
00:10:28,000 --> 00:10:33,000
and realise that you're not the only one who is experiencing whatever it is you're experiencing.

92
00:10:33,000 --> 00:10:39,000
It's such a strange things going throuhg a PhD. Actually amazing at times.

93
00:10:39,000 --> 00:10:45,000
And it can be very difficult at times. But when you got people to share it, that really makes a difference.

94
00:10:45,000 --> 00:10:48,000
There's also something really important that came out when I was talking to

95
00:10:48,000 --> 00:10:53,000
our PGRs about work life balance and setting boundaries and asking for help.

96
00:10:53,000 --> 00:11:03,000
So here's Catherine Victoria Warren. I'm one of our Penryn PGRs, Jamie Cranston talking about those very things.

97
00:11:03,000 --> 00:11:13,000
The thing with doing a PhD because it's. It is, by its essence, quite not nebulous necessarily,

98
00:11:13,000 --> 00:11:22,000
but kind of you have to put your own boundaries in and so that might be kind of like, OK, well, I just work.

99
00:11:22,000 --> 00:11:26,000
I work nine to five. I don't work in the evenings. I don't.

100
00:11:26,000 --> 00:11:31,000
What work we can it had to be what works for you. Some people might have natural boundaries in their life.

101
00:11:31,000 --> 00:11:36,000
They've got children that need like feeding

102
00:11:36,000 --> 00:11:43,000
I've always found my kids quite useful that way, like calls you out of your work and you have to stop.

103
00:11:43,000 --> 00:11:50,000
So the diary or journals part of that setting boundaries for yourself.

104
00:11:50,000 --> 00:11:56,000
And of course, you know, I've always said about the PhD, it's not a sprint it's a marathon.

105
00:11:56,000 --> 00:12:02,000
So take some time. There's one thing I would have definitely told myself.

106
00:12:02,000 --> 00:12:07,000
Even I think, too, recently is take some time for yourself.

107
00:12:07,000 --> 00:12:11,000
Your PhDis not your life. And you have friends.

108
00:12:11,000 --> 00:12:18,000
You have family. And you had yourself to take care of as well and always just keep it in mind.

109
00:12:18,000 --> 00:12:24,000
Yes doing a PhD is Great. Yes, it's very satisfying once you've completed it.

110
00:12:24,000 --> 00:12:31,000
But don't let it take over your life. Everything in moderation.

111
00:12:31,000 --> 00:12:39,000
Don't ever compare yourself to another PhD students work because their work is totally different to what we're doing.

112
00:12:39,000 --> 00:12:43,000
So I did that quite a lot. And I think everybody does, too.

113
00:12:43,000 --> 00:12:47,000
I think even when I'm saying this and whoever's listening to this, you probably will do it.

114
00:12:47,000 --> 00:12:51,000
But don't ever compare yourself. Because it does mean it can put you down.

115
00:12:51,000 --> 00:12:55,000
But you need to bear in mind that it is completely different. They are different timescales.

116
00:12:55,000 --> 00:13:00,000
Everything they do is completely unique to their own work as well.

117
00:13:00,000 --> 00:13:04,000
You will see. So they'll probably looking at your work and also thinking the same.

118
00:13:04,000 --> 00:13:09,000
So try not to compare, I guess, to the other big one is some.

119
00:13:09,000 --> 00:13:19,000
And don't be afraid to ask for help. I think that's the biggest development that I've had over my PhD at the start.

120
00:13:19,000 --> 00:13:23,000
It's quite easy to get sucked into the feeling of, oh, I must know everything.

121
00:13:23,000 --> 00:13:29,000
And often it's off the this imposter syndrome. And you feel the need to to.

122
00:13:29,000 --> 00:13:35,000
You may find things out yourself, and obviously part of the PhD is developing those independent skills,

123
00:13:35,000 --> 00:13:39,000
but you're not expected to know absolutely everything.

124
00:13:39,000 --> 00:13:45,000
And so long as you're learning, when you ask somebody for help, obviously getting somebody to do it for you,

125
00:13:45,000 --> 00:13:49,000
sort of defeats the whole purpose of the activity that.

126
00:13:49,000 --> 00:13:57,000
One of the best ways to learn stuff and save yourself a lot of time and pain and frustration, it's to ask for help.

127
00:13:57,000 --> 00:14:07,000
And that goes from coding, writing and even like simple things like how to organise your reading.

128
00:14:07,000 --> 00:14:14,000
There's lots of people in your departments who have gone through that experience themselves and will usually have some good advice.

129
00:14:14,000 --> 00:14:20,000
And it's always good to get different people's advice because sometimes one person's approach isn't a good match for you.

130
00:14:20,000 --> 00:14:23,000
So you might need to try a few different things.

131
00:14:23,000 --> 00:14:31,000
I hope some of that has given you an insight into other people's experiences of starting the research degree, the things that they find difficult.

132
00:14:31,000 --> 00:14:38,000
And also, if you're finding it intimidating and anxiety producing nerve racking, you're not on your own.

133
00:14:38,000 --> 00:14:42,000
That's a completely normal experience. And as Jamie said, we're here to help.

134
00:14:42,000 --> 00:14:48,000
And please do reach out if you need us. But also enjoy the final thing is just enjoy it.

135
00:14:48,000 --> 00:14:54,000
Enjoy it. And the time goes by so quickly, you don't even realise it.

136
00:14:54,000 --> 00:14:59,000
But yet they are going to be some moments. It's not easy, right.

137
00:14:59,000 --> 00:15:04,000
I will not sugarcoat this. It is. It is not is.

138
00:15:04,000 --> 00:15:15,000
They are. There will be moments where you will want to just cry. But at the end of today, you know, if you have a goal, you will work towards that.

139
00:15:15,000 --> 00:15:22,000
And and just make sure you have a great support network of friends and family and supervisors,

140
00:15:22,000 --> 00:15:27,000
because that will honestly, that's what got me through as well. That's what helped me.

141
00:15:27,000 --> 00:15:33,000
Those kind of moments where I just was like, what am I doing? I didn't think this work is working.

142
00:15:33,000 --> 00:15:40,000
And but yeah, I just having all of that kind of adds to that, to the experience of it all.

143
00:15:40,000 --> 00:15:46,000
And yeah, hopefully at the end of it you be able to say you've completed it.

144
00:15:46,000 --> 00:15:51,000
And yeah. And you're very proud of the work that you've produced. Thank you so much.

145
00:15:51,000 --> 00:15:56,000
Emily. Catherine. Edward. Victoria Warren and Jamie for

146
00:15:56,000 --> 00:16:02,000
their insights and their contributions to this week's episode. And that's it for this episode.

147
00:16:02,000 --> 00:16:05,000
don't forget to like, rate and subscribe and join me.

148
00:16:05,000 --> 00:16:32,451
Next time we'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.

 

Share | Download
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App