As we start a new academic year, our Chair reflects on the early stages of the PhD.
So much of the early stages of the PhD is understanding the PhD process and what is expected of you. Where is the bar we’re aiming for? What level of writing? What level of knowledge? What level of analysis? An original contribution to what now?! It’s learning; how you work, how you write, how you get the best out of yourself. Building relationships, with other PhD students, with your supervisors, with your networks. Building resilience. Building confidence. And learning the field, learning your research topic. That in-depth knowledge of your topic begins from year one.
We’re in the PhD for the long haul. It is, as many say, a marathon. And the PhD can take over your life, and the lives of people around you. What do you mean people aren’t interested in discussing Goffman and Foucault?! The PhD has a presence with you, in your mind, a companion. The things you put in place in the first year need to make sense for the distance. You can’t sprint or push through for the whole of the PhD. There may be sprinting moments, but the way you work needs to be sustainable for the longevity. Be kind to yourself. Build practices that make sense for you and make sense for the marathon.
The first part of the PhD is important. It feels like nothing is happening and you’re getting nowhere. But this is building your foundations; your working practices, your knowledge, your confidence. And your PhD rests on these foundations. They are essential. It may feel like you’re lost in those early days, going down blind alleys of reading, different directions, different distractions. Is this relevant? Is it important? It may feel that you’re not achieving anything, going around in circles. But the foundation-building of the first year is fundamental. Trust that it is important. You absolutely need it. It makes for a strong PhD resting on solid ground.
This stage matters. You’re doing the building. Be patient. Be sensible. Be kind to yourself.
Claire Davis, BSC Postgraduate Chair.