To mark self-care week, an annual event that encourages people to manage their day-to-day wellbeing, we asked Bristol’s PGRs what helps them unwind, de-stress and forget about their research.
The ‘top tips’ we received were varied — from dancing to dog-walking — but being able to take a break without feeling guilty was a common thread, as was scheduling time off.
Also: Netflix. (Well, who doesn’t love a box-set binge?)
As Gwen from the School of Veterinary Sciences put it in her thoughtful reply: ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, the important thing is to switch off entirely and not feel guilty!’
Your self-care tips
‘I sleep well. I eat well. I celebrate small victories.’ Jane, School of Education
‘Spending free time outside with animals. Dog walking or horse riding would be my choice. 🐶🐴☀’ Marta, School of Economics
‘I go outside, go for a run, walk, meet up with friends, dance, increase physical activity, eat healthy. Also, simply focusing on my breathing when I’m stressed helps me feel better.’ Lily, School for Policy Studies
‘I make sure I build in the time for myself into my schedule, that way I don’t feel guilty as I know I have the time for it! In terms of what I do it can vary from a Netflix binge to a nice long shower to baking… <3’ Sarah, SU
‘Promising myself one guilt-free hour a day to do something completely non-PhD related. Usually this is practising guitar, walking the dog or just having a nap. It doesn’t matter what you do, the important thing is to switch off entirely and not feel guilty!’ Gwen, School of Veterinary Sciences
‘Remind myself constantly that putting myself first is not selfish. Remember to be grateful for all the good things I have. Move slowly and take more rest than I think I need! Oh, and sometimes a nice G&T!’ Emma, School for Policy Studies
‘If you need a break — hours or days, take it. Burnout can lead to drop out, be kind to yourself and binge that Netflix show, take that trip. Then come back when you’re feeling refreshed and with fresh perspective.’ Tina, School of Arts
What would you add? Tell us in the comments or share your tips on Twitter or Instagram using #selfcareweek.
Is it possible to condense everything that Bristol’s postgraduate researchers need to know into just 10 short points?
Not really — but our little list is (hopefully) a good place to start if you’ve just begun your journey, or a handy refresher if you’ve been on the PGR path for a while.
Do you think we’ve missed something major? If you do, please tell us in the comments.
1. You’re a researcher in ‘the best place to live in Britain’
Bristol ‘crams in all the culture you could wish for’. Not our words — the assessment of the Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide, which crowned the city as the best place to live in Britain in its 2017 edition.
‘We sum the city up as cool, classy and supremely creative,’ said Sunday Times home editor Helen Davies. Who are we to disagree with that?
All research students automatically receive our BDC Bulletin, so you’ll get a round-up of what’s on in bustling Bristol — from film festivals to street-art strolls — every fortnight.
2. Bristol has a vibrant network of postgraduates
Want to meet more of your fellow researchers and attend a wide range of events, including Pint of Science evenings, hiking expeditions to the Cheddar Valley (pictured above) or informal, fun get-togethers?
Joining the Bristol Student Union PG Network — a student-led initiative for all postgraduate students, both research and taught — is a great way to meet your peers and get involved in PGR community activities.
Globally, Bristol is one of only 12 UK institutions in the top 100 universities.
All of which is just to emphasise that you are at one of the most popular and successful universities in the UK, and you should expect your time here to be both positive and productive.
4. Whatever stage you’re at, our free training and events can help
Postgraduate research is a marathon rather than a sprint.
The BDC isn’t here just to cheer you on; we curate an extensive programme of training and events that’s designed to boost your personal and professional development, whether you’re just getting started, you need to maintain your momentum or you have the finish line in sight.
Life as a PGR can be challenging. Immersing yourself in research, lab work or field work can be very productive — but it can also be isolating.
Taking care of yourself, and seeking help if you need it, is an essential part of maintaining a positive and productive life as a PGR. If you need support, your supervisor will be your primary channel. However, a range of other services are also available — from the Expert Self Care app to the Students’ Health Service.
6. There’s an online tool that’ll make your PGR life a lot easier
Feeling daunted by your postgraduate research? The University has a resource that can help you.
STaR (short for ‘Skills, Training and Review’) is an online tool that enables you to manage, plan and track your development. You can save your work, share drafts with supervisors and — thanks to a link with the University’s PURE system — develop a public research profile.
7. You can showcase your research at our annual PGR festival
Imaginative, interactive — and just downright fun — Research without Borders is the University’s annual showcase of postgraduate research.
As a PGR, the festival gives you an opportunity to present your work to the public and connect with other researchers from all disciplines. In May 2017, the special exhibition at Colston Hall that was held as part of the festival saw 74 postgraduate researchers showcase their work through interactive displays and activities.
8. Being an open researcher will help your reputation
Successful researchers know how to make their work discoverable and widely accessible. It’s not just good practice; it can help you establish a reputation early in your career.
The first step towards becoming an open researcher is to sign up for a free ORCiD account — a unique identifier for researchers that means all of your work is associated with you, regardless of any name changes or variations.
Once you’ve done this, you can learn about the online tools that interact with ORCiD and will help you boost your research reputation.
9. You’re in a multi-university alliance — and it has real-world benefits
Did you know that, as a Bristol PGR, you’re a member of the GW4 Alliance?
If you haven’t encountered it before, the GW4 Alliance is a partnership between four of the most research-intensive universities in the UK: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.
The alliance has some tangible benefits for PGRs, including access to a collaborative network, expert training opportunities and shared resources. You can even access a wealth of rare and unique materials (the ‘GW4 treasures’) and a database of equipment.
Katiuska M Ferrer Portillo is a PhD student in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project focuses on the charting the influences and geography of the Bristolian dialect. She shared her experiences with us as a participant in both the Discussion Series and Showcase Exhibition events in this year’s Research without Borders festival.
Applying to take part
February 20, 2017: busy as I was with the preparation for my father’s visit from Venezuela, I received an email from one of my PhD supervisors suggesting that I should participate in the Research without Borders (RwB) event organised by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC). I paused for a moment to read the event’s advertising:
“All festival participants will: •be offered a bespoke programme of training •meet, connect and collaborate with researchers from across disciplines •showcase their work to a broad audience of academics, students and the wider public •have the opportunity to connect with external experts and industry professionals.”
Although I am a mature student with previous experience in a legal background, and I have presented my work in conferences, youth charities, social clubs, community centres, and have further discussed my research on the local press, BBC Radio Bristol and ITV West News, the fact that English is not my native language made me feel somewhat uneasy and that I needed more training to hone my presentation skills. Hence why I decided to apply for both the Showcase Exhibition and the Discussion Series components of the festival.
Training and preparation
As a proud member of the University of Bristol research community, and I am aware of the high academic standard, prestige and recognition enjoyed by our University. However, I was not prepared for the excellence of each one of the speakers who led our training for the discussion series.
Malcolm Love’s ‘Presenting your Research with Impact’ workshop marked a sea change in my presenting style. Thanks to Malcom’s advice, I learnt the importance of: warming up before presenting, dividing presentations in sections, how to apply a story-telling approach even for the most technical talks, and some good tips to calm my nerves – such as chewing gum for twenty minutes before presenting.
After weeks of hard training and thorough preparation, the moment of truth arrived. The RwB week started with the first ever discussion series, ‘Changing perceptions, transforming identities’, and I was the very first presenter in a venue packed to the rafters with 100 people capacity, including my husband, my niece, my two PhD supervisors, lecturers from the School of Modern Languages, and several friends. No pressure there, then!
So, there I was, nervous but with an adrenaline rush, trying to transmit to the audience the importance, usefulness and beauty of my research, while cracking jokes to conceal that the wrong set of slides appeared on screen! Thankfully no one noticed! Yet the training, preparation and my genuine passion for my work paid off. The presentation was a success. People who were unfamiliar with my discipline asked the most interesting questions during the discussion afterwards while we were enjoying our drinks. The experience has led to further interviews for the University of Bristol Facebook series, Bristol Faces; the Science Technology Today website; as well as my collaboration as an article writer for PolicyBristol. Yet the best was still to come.
The Showcase Exhibition on Friday, 12 May kicked off with a vibrant atmosphere full of the energy and enthusiasm, the sort that only ideas, endeavour and hopes of young researchers can produce. Very rarely do science and humanities researchers get the opportunity to amalgamate their work. That day, a combination of vets, mathematicians, sociologists, engineers, physicists, biologists, physicians, lawyers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, dancers, artists, literature researchers, and sociolinguists like myself, amongst others, had the chance to share their experiences and bridge the gap between academia and our local community. Thanks to the BDC, Colston Hall became this unique melting pot.
As soon as I got to the Colston Hall, I started to set up my stand trying to put up a giant poster to a poster board, when Kitty Webster, one of the event organisers, asked me if I wanted to talk about my work with Made in Bristol TV. Of course, I replied “YES!”, and Kitty told me that the reporter was going to interview me 20 minutes after the opening of the showcase.
I suddenly realised that I had just an hour to set up my stand and prepare my talk!
The RwB presentation skills training proved to be a lifesaver, because it helped me to give a natural and professional interview about my research on Bristolian, with less than 60 minutes of preparation. That was indeed, the most exciting moment of the week for me!
Last, but not least…
Lastly, but no less important, was my interaction with the general public, and the possibility I had to collect data from young Bristolian speakers, a group I was struggling to encourage to participate with my work. That was definitely a rounded day, but all good things come to an end, and after an exciting and diverse round of presentations for the 3 Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), the event finished, but not without a wonderful post show celebration, whereby the winner of the 3MT and the most engaging stands were chosen. I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists, a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with, and once again, RwB made that possible.
Thanks to my fruitful experience at the RwB event, I realized that the University of Bristol offers professional spaces like the BDC, where communication skills are a valuable asset, and this defined a breakthrough moment in my professional life, because helping people communicate their work with impact is a career path that I would like to consider in the future.
Interested in applying for Research without Borders 2018? Visit the BDC website to read the FAQs and submit your application. The deadline is 11am on Monday 5 February 2018.
It’s over a month since our Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research took place across the Univeristy of Bristol and Colston Hall – so these highlights are a good reminder of what fun we had, how much we learned, and how hard our postgraduate research students are working each day of the week!
Pick up on the buzzing atmosphere from our showcase afternoon finale and hear from participants about why they got involved and what they learned:
As our 100 postgraduate researchers involved in this year’s Research without Borders festival prepare their exhibitions, discussions and presentations, we took a trip down memory lane to last year’s showcase and talked to the winner of the prize for Interactive Display, Henry Webber, an Archaeology and Anthropology PhD candidate.
Last year I applied to display my research at the Research Without Borders festival. I wanted to use the process as an exercise for thinking about my ideas, and how to present and communicate these ideas to a mixture of people from colleagues to academics, to the general public and other industries.
My research involves connecting archaeology with agriculture. It is about learning what impacts humans have had on the landscape, the material remains left in the soil, and how these may be impacting state of the art farming techniques and agricultural knowledge in the 21st century.
Some of the main aspects that I wanted to convey were the material aspects of my research, the focus on soils and how they are central to both archaeology (for the study of the human past) and agriculture (for the future of society). In addition, I wanted to showcase how agricultural techniques are changing with the evolution of remote sensing data, and software and hardware development. With an increased focus on high resolution data and precise methodologies, such as GPS steering of tractors and variable rate fertiliser application, requiring ever more detailed knowledge of soil variation, the impacts that humans have had on soils are becoming increasingly more important.
To try to engage people in my display and demonstrate these ideas, I brought in real soil and turf blocks to replicate a field with a crop. I then stripped off the topsoil and recreated a miniature archaeological site with darker colours of soil representing high organic matter and nutrient levels such as phosphorus, which is often found in conjunction with archaeological sites. I used toy tractors from my childhood to demonstrate the actions and spatial connection that farmers have with archaeology and to explain some of the contentions that currently exist between farmers and archaeologists. Next to this I had printed images of my case study datasets and a projector with several videos showing high-tech precision spraying, laser weeding and autonomous vehicles. I also brought some actual geophysical equipment (Ground Penetrating Radar) for people to use. With Ground Penetrating Radar, it is possible to see objects below the surface, and in the display hall we could tell where pipes, electric cables, and solid floor supports were from the way they reflect radar energy. This sort of technique is also however, commonly used to discover buried archaeology.
After I found out that I had won the prize for best interactive display, I was delighted! I had certainly got a lot out of the event already from just the networking and discussions with people, but the prize was an additional bonus. The prize consisted of money to put towards training of my choice, which I decided to use to improve and continue my professional development in being qualified in agronomic advice.
I had already completed a course in fertiliser and agronomy advice as part of the PhD, but this extra funding helped me to continue to be professionally accredited and knowledgeable about current agronomic
advice, issues, and legislation. This has great benefit for my research as, when talking to farmers, I can contextualise my research in ‘real life’ farming practices in the UK today. It has also helped me to engage with farmers and develop positive relationships around which my research can become much more reflexive. Finally, this training provides me with a qualification that will be useful in any future career path relating to food and farming and allow me to have a broader perspective.
The Research without Borders festival was certainly a great event and I am glad to see it continuing this year. It was worthwhile from many perspectives for me and I would encourage you to get involved to meet new people, try out new ideas and explore displaying your own research!
The showcase exhibition returns to Colston Hall frmo 2 to 5pm on 12 May in this year’s Research without Borders festival. Sign up for tickets via Eventbrite.
The Bristol heat of the international competition for communicating science asks working scientists and technologists to explain something about science in just 3 minutes. Kate spoke about the science of hairstyling and shape memory polymers, and is one of 4 to progress to the Regional final, which brings together talent from across Wales, the Midlands and the Southwest.
Famelab [http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/about/famelab/] is a communications competition where entrants have no slides and only the props they can carry on with them. Participants begin with local heats, then work their way up through region and national to the international final at Cheltenham Science Festival. Taking part in Famelab has kickstarted the careers of many presenters and performers, from musicians to more traditional explosion-based science demonstrations.
Kate Oliver is in the third year of their time at the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, and is working on 3D printing shape-changing materials. They also co-organise and regularly perform at local chaotic science cabaret, Science Showoff Bristol, [https://scienceshowoff.wordpress.com/] and are taking part in the Science Showoff Talent Factory [ https://showofftalentfactory.wordpress.com/ ]. Kate said:
“Today I spoke about the molecular action that enables hair to hold shapes – it’s called shape memory, and could be very useful in future technologies. Talking about science allows me to indulge my attention-seeking, outward going side – though I like being with my machines in lab too.”
Of 8 entrants into the local heat, 4 went through: in addition to Kate, Alex Lathbridge, Lon Barfield, and Alex McCleod will be joining another 10 at the Regional final, to be held in March. It’s free, and all are welcome to come down, watch, and offer their thoughts.
This post was originally published on the BCFN website, and can be viewed here.
So you’re thinking of doing the 3MT – well, stop fretting about strutting your stuff on stage in front of people and just do it! Applications for the 3MT 2017 are now open, so you should throw caution to the wind and go for it! It’s a wonderful time with some of the warmest and most attentive audiences you are ever likely to present to, and you meet the most interesting people along the way!. Here are some of the things that I’ve thought a little bit about since taking part last year, and would like to pass on to any other aspiring postgraduate research communicators:
1. Limit the jargon
We use jargon in our fields of research because it is precise, concise, and highly descriptive. When participating in a competition that values those things you can use jargon but make sure you can explain it with a short rider, caveat, or example!
2.Start with the big picture — and end with it too
Your area of work is likely to be highly specialised, which means your average layperson isn’t going to have a clue as to why you’re so interested in what you do, or why it matters. Contextualise. Pose a big question that you’ll try to answer in your 3 minutes. Wrap up with that question too, so you can answer with what you’ve learnt so far during your research.
3. Use humour to your advantage
Research isn’t all peaches and cream and has certainly, for me, had its moments of humour and/or despair – but maybe this isn’t your experience! Audiences love hearing about some of the struggles of research, as it humanises you and makes your work relatable. It’s also a good reminder that research is about the generation and discovery of new knowledge, which doesn’t happen without a few hiccups or missteps along the way. A backdrop of healthy self-awareness and critique goes a long way.
4. Don’t try to pack too much in
You only have 3 minutes. I know that’s obvious — but seriously, it’s not that long. Don’t try and do your entire thesis! Stick to only one project, or one concept that you are exploring. Pick one thing and do that thing well. If you can give someone a new perspective on something, or new knowledge about just one tiny aspect of your work, then you’ll have done a good job.
5.Practice makes perfect
Practice! To your colleagues, to your mates, to your family, to yourself in the bathroom mirror. How you stand, how you project your voice, and how you time your vocal cues -, these are all crucial to coming across confidently, clearly, and effectively. The only way to do this is to become comfortable with the material you prepare, to trust that it will fit within 3 minutes, and then to practice, practice, practice.
The 3MT is a bit of a whirlwind: the experience is one that carries you along at a terrific pace. Before you know it you can be stood on a stage performing to the general public, but remember – you are human, they are humans. Take a deep breath and speak – it’s only for 3 minutes. It goes without saying that to get the benefits of taking part, you need to apply. Just do it! You won’t regret it.
Applications for the 3MT 2017 are open until midday on March 15th: apply now! For information, key dates, and to learn more about our previous 3MT competitions, visit our website.
Make sure you start the year as you mean to go on by getting involved in the thriving research community here in Bristol. Here are some of the highlights coming up in 2017 that our postgraduate research students should watch out for:
1. Look after yourself by prioritising your self-care
We bet you didn’t expect to see this as number 1 on the list, but looking after yourself shouldn’t be forgotten. Life as a researcher can take its toll on your mental and physical health. In the depths of research – whether in the lab, the archives, or the field – it’s all too easy to get sucked away from the wider world. Take a quick look at our virtual resource hub for activities, events, information and news about mental health and general wellbeing.
2. Celebrate the start of your research at our special inauguration event in February
If you’ve started your research degree on or after 1 August 2016 then come along to our special Researcher Inauguration event on Monday 6 February, 2017. Receive your official welcome from the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University, Professor Hugh Brady, and introduce yourself to the University’s rich and vibrant research community over a glass of wine and some nibbles. Sign up for your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/researcher-inauguration-event-tickets-30551567561
3. Showcase your research at the BDC festival of research: Research without Borders 2017
Our flagship Research without Borders festival provides an interactive space for Bristol postgraduate researchers across all disciplines to come together and showcase their work to a broad audience from within and outside of the University. This year’s festival will include a whole week of interactive showcase events: an evening seminar series, the finals of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition and an afternoon showcase exhibition at Colston Hall on Friday 12 May. More than 100 PGRs shared their work at last year’s exhibition, through research posters, hands-on demonstrations, innovative research displays and lively discussions. Take a look at last year’s event to get a sense of just how special the event was – and help us make this year’s event bigger and better than ever! Keep an eye on the Bristol Doctoral College website to find out how you can sign up.
4. Sign up for personal and professional development training
In an increasingly competitive environment there is a growing demand on postgraduate researchers not just to be qualified experts in their subject area, but to be highly accomplished individuals with the skills and attitude to communicate, innovate and adapt within a continually changing landscape. The Bristol Doctoral College runs a Personal and Professional Development programme with more than 150 workshops, seminars and online resources designed specifically for postgraduate research students. Take a look at the full catalogue and sign up today!
5. Join the Bristol SU Postgraduate Network
The PG Network is a student-led initiative for all postgraduate students (both research and taught) that seeks to develop an active, strong and vibrant postgraduate community here at the University of Bristol. The PG Network organises events in Bristol and provides a real chance for students to work together to shape and develop Bristol postgraduate community life. Get involved and keep up to date by joining the group on Facebook.
6. Learn something new and see where it takes you
Keep your mind active even when you need a break from your research by going to a public lecture, talk or debate about something completely different to your main study area. There are numerous public talks and lectures in Bristol, and many of them are free to attend. The Bristol Festival of Ideas attracts experts from around the world to Bristol with an inspiring programme of debate and discussion throughout the year. The Arnolfini also organises regular talks and the Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed holds a free lunchtime talk every Friday.
7. And finally, make the most of being in Bristol
Bristol has a wealth of cultural treasures and historic places to explore – from museums, art galleries and theatres, pop-up cafes, festivals and world-renowned graffiti. Make sure you make the most of studying in such a vibrant city and take some time out of your research to explore. Keep up to speed with what’s going by keeping an eye on Bristol 247 and Bristol Museums.
Doreen Pastor, a PhD Student in German, travelled to Germany to collect fieldwork this summer. She recounts her trials and rewards, and offers a couple of tips for postgraduate researchers preparing to go out into the field themselves.
I am a part-time student in German Studies researching how visitors engage with ‘challenging’ histories at memorial sites in Germany. This required spending an extended period of time in Germany talking to visitors at the concentration camp memorials Flossenbürg and Ravensbrück, the Holocaust memorial House of the Wannsee Conference and the former Stasi prison Bautzen II.
So, with my clipboard in my hand, I set off to Germany in June 2016. I was incredibly anxious at the airport with all these thoughts going through my head. “Will the survey I prepared work? Or more importantly, will visitors actually talk to me?!” I was also wondering how I would cope with living in Germany for four months, something many of my friends could not understand as Germany is my home country. I moved to the UK eight years ago and although I have been back since, the UK felt much more like home now.
Flossenbürg concentration camp memorial, my first stop, was a tough site. Visitor numbers were low which meant I had to work very hard in order to achieve my sample size. I stood with my clipboard in the rain, in thunderstorms and in scourging heat, often wondering “Why did I decide to do a PhD?”
By the time I completed my research at Ravensbrück (my 2nd case study), a former concentration camp predominantly for women, my own mental health started to be affected. I had completely underestimated the impact of the loneliness during fieldwork combined with spending significant amounts of time at sites which represent one of the darkest chapters in human history. There were times when I was close to giving up, especially when I went to my 3rd site, the House of the Wannsee Conference, where my living arrangements (student residence halls) were awful. Thankfully, Germany’s summer weather had significantly improved by then and I was able to spend the majority of my time outside, so I could cope with the unpleasant living situation for a month.
My final case study was the former Stasi prison, Bautzen II, in the East of Germany. Interestingly, this was a return to home territory for me, as I am originally from East Germany. It was tough to conduct research in a former Stasi prison, as the history is so close to my own family history (my uncle was imprisoned by the Stasi albeit not in Bautzen). However, it was also an incredibly humbling experience as I met a few former prisoners who talked to me about their own experience of having been a political prisoner in the GDR. In fact, one former prisoner said to me “Your PhD is so important, we need to know how we can engage with visitors in the future when we are no longer here.” This comment gave me a much needed dose of motivation after four months of hard work. I completed my research successfully in October, and was even invited back to Ravensbrück for a presentation to the staff team about my visitor research.
Although, looking back, I enjoyed working at these different memorials, it was one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. I had to learn to cope with rejections and the unpredictability of primary research while also keeping up motivation. Therefore, my main two pieces of advice for any PhD student on fieldwork are:
1. Don’t take setbacks personally – unfortunately the nature of primary research is that it includes ups and downs.
2. As tempting as it is to keep on working, schedule regular breaks – these are vital for your physical and mental health.
On the 21st of September 2016, I marked one year at the University of Bristol. People have compared the first year of a PhD programme to the “honeymoon phase” after a wedding. Since I have never been on a honeymoon, I cannot relate to that metaphor. I can however assure you that it has been an amazing academic year with huge learning experiences for me. I like to think that I have become smarter than I was a year ago. You have to take my word for it though. My research proposal has also gone through some changes, a process similar to the metamorphosis of a butterfly. However, it doesn’t look as pretty as a butterfly yet, but I hope it will, in the coming months. The research problem that intrigued me hasn’t changed yet. I am only changing the ways I wish to address the problem. These changes have been necessitated by the need to clarify the focus of my research and fine-tune the research process. During this period, I attended several seminars, workshops and conferences, in addition to my compulsory coursework units. I can attest to the fact that all of these platforms equipped me with vital skills for doing research. Particularly, there was one seminar organized by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC) for Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs), which literally changed my PhD life. It was held sometime in February 2016 and made significant impact on my attitude towards the PhD. They called it the ‘Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Researchers’ seminar with Hugh Kearns.
I will not give away too many details about the seminar, so that I do not ruin the experience for those who might be attending the next one. I will instead talk about the three important lessons I took away from the seminar. The first was to treat the PhD like a job, because it is a job. Prior to that time, I viewed the PhD programme as my ‘last’ schooling endeavor. I had resigned from my ‘job’ to go to ‘school’. That demarcating line meant I could afford some luxuries like procrastination and distractions. As a full-time student, it also meant that I was in full control of how I spent my flexible time. Of course, I was busy with lectures, pre-readings, assessments and preparations for supervision meetings, but most of it happened within a schedule that was subject to my whims. To treat my PhD as a job I had to have regular working hours and specific targets with deadlines. I had to be responsible with how I spent my time and self. I had to be accountable to the PhD because it was my new Boss. It put money in my account and paid my bills literally, courtesy of my scholarship. Would I spend all day browsing the social media around a Boss, in an organization where I was an employee? Would I still be in bed by 9am when that organization’s resumption time is 8am? Would I just decide to stay off work without a legitimate reason like ill-health? I definitely would not. To treat the PhD as a job, my ways had to change — and they did, gradually. Today, I am doing my best to please my Boss and show this Boss that I deserve to be here. Treating my PhD as a job has engendered in me a high sense of responsibility and accountability for what I must do per time.
The second lesson for me was the need to write as I read, and not leave writing to a time in the future. Hugh Kearns problematized the notion of a ‘writing-up’ phase of the PhD and insists that writing must begin from the beginning – as we read articles, run experiments etc. This lesson has benefitted me a lot as it reduces the chances of me having a ‘writer’s block’. As I read articles or books, I review in writing the areas that are relevant to my research. Indeed, I end with MANY drafts but it’s a good thing for me because I also think by writing.
The third lesson for me was Hugh Kearns emphasis on the fact that the PhD is not the pursuit of a Nobel Prize. The aim of my PhD is not to submit a perfect thesis. Rather, it is to finish the PhD and submit the thesis. Therefore, my expectations of what I can and will accomplish within the three years of the programme must be realistic. I am grateful to my supervisors who spent our first meetings insisting that I narrow my research focus to something feasible within the timeframe I had.
I am also grateful to the BDC for organizing the seminar and numerous others that I have attended. I look forward to the new courses that I have booked to attend in the coming months. If I may ask, which seminar or workshop at the University has greatly impacted your PhD life?
The next ‘Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Researchers’ seminar will run on Friday, November 11, from 9:00-12:00 in the Helen Wodehouse Lecture Theatre, 35 Berkeley Square. Register via OnCourse.