A Year in the Life of a PhD

MontageHere at the BDC we work with postgraduate researchers from across the University, which means we get to meet a lot of interesting people! Every time we talk to someone about their research we are blown away by how interesting their project is. The breadth of research at this University is truly impressive! In the past few weeks alone, we have had conversations with postgraduate researchers about everything from Thucydides’ description of the Sicilian expedition, to exploring bladder function with a group of young urologists. While the distinct topics of research are always fascinating, we are often struck by the similarities between such diverse projects. Completing a PhD, whether you work in a lab or a library, involves a lot of the same processes, including creation and analysis of data, time management, work-life balance, working with a supervisor, and getting research published.

One of the things that we regularly hear from our researchers is how little they knew about what a PhD would be like before they started.  Passion for your subject is often what leads you to apply for a PhD programme. This passion is then reinforced throughout your studies by the ‘Eureka!’ moments you experience when you unlock a new protein, or translate a particularly difficult passage of text.  And having a paper accepted for publication, or forging new connections at a conference, are markers of entry into the academic community. However, enthusiasm for your research project can often blind you to the realities of the process.  What goes on in the background is a lot of hard work, long hours slogging through data, feelings of isolation and self-doubt, and far too often, no clear career prospects once completed. It is your enthusiasm for your subject which will pull you through even the longest hours in the lab.

While everyone’s experience is unique, what is universal is that completing a doctoral degree is not a smooth journey. There will undoubtedly be ups and downs along the way.  It is important to recognise that others have felt the same and that you are not alone. While much of your research may be completed in isolation, according to the specialised nature of your project, you are part of a dynamic research community. It’s time you met some of your colleagues!

We’ve brought together a diverse group of researchers, each completing a doctoral degree across a range of subjects, and at various points in their studies. Each of these researchers will provide unique insight into what completing a PhD is like, as they share their experiences from week to week.