10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started as a PGR
This is a guest post from former PGR Blogger Jade Scott. In this post, Jade shares 'Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started as a PGR' to help you along your research journey.
1. Don't be afraid to ask questions – You are a PGR and your job is to conduct research so naturally you aren't going to have all the answers. Instead, ask for help, look for recommendations and suggestions, and remind yourself that it is a learning curve.
2. Impostor syndrome – Even once you finish your thesis you might still break out in a cold sweat at the thought of being 'caught out'. This is a form of social anxiety that everyone feels, and that academics right at the top of their game feel sometimes! To fight impostor syndrome remember that it isn’t just you and that, really, you do know your stuff.
3. Ask for help – I had never used a microfilm reader before I started my research. After spending ages tangling myself in knots and trying not to attract attention in the National Library of Scotland reading rooms, I eventually sought help from the staff. Ten minutes later and I was whizzing through records like a pro.
4. Use the Library – I'll confess, as an undergraduate I did not make use of the library resources. I was fond of my preferred spot on Level 9 for taking notes and writing essays. And I did make it upstairs to Special Collections (bonus points for me!) Nevertheless, I could not have told you that we had College Librarians (sorry everyone). My lack of knowledge is not a reflection of poor marketing on the Library's part, but rather more a sense that as an undergraduate I had specific goals in mind, whereas as a PGR I spent the first while floundering in research questions that I had grandly set myself with no idea how to answer them. So, I found out more about what the library offers. Did you know that your College Librarian can help you with database searches? It is worth taking the time to get in touch with them as they can use their super librarian powers to help when least expected. For example, I needed to use a newly published edition of letters that had been catalogued as reference only, but as I needed to access the text for more than a few hours at a time, my College Librarian was able to secure permission for me to check the book out for a limited period.
5. Take the training –Being proactive and taking steps to strengthen and develop your skills will make the process easier. This requires some self-reflection and honest criticism to work out what areas you could do with improving. And remember that many of the skills gained at workshops and training seminars are transferable – you can rely on them even after your research! Workshops are also a great way to meet fellow PGRs, share your thoughts, have a little communal moan if you need to, and generally enjoy some social time away from your desk . Right at the start it can feel like a distraction doing all the required training and development. You’re itching to get started and these workshops can feel irrelevant, time-consuming or, if you have studied at the university before, repetitive. But trust me, the skills developed on these workshops will lay the groundwork for the long slog through the middle of your research.
6. It is okay to take a holiday – Everyone has a different way of working and you should never feel that you should justify how you work. Find what works for you and keep at it. That being said, taking a break and getting away from your research can be wonderful. You are allowed to go on holiday, to take weekends away, or to take every weekend off if you like! So long as you are on track and managing your workload in a healthy and effective way, it is no one's business if you take a holiday.
7. Share your research – This doesn’t have to be only at academic conferences, although it is important to disseminate your research within your field. Rather, find ways of sharing your research that engages different audiences. You could try getting involved with the Hunterian Associates Programme, Explorathon or the 3-Minute Thesis Competition. The public are often keen to find out more about research projects and it can be really affirming to have someone chat about your project simply because they are interested. Plus, getting involved in engagement programmes offers new, creative skills that you might not get the chance to develop presenting at a traditional conference.
8. Some days will not go well – You will have days when you write nothing, you find no new data, or the experiment does not work. Some days you will genuinely spend staring out the window, or into space, trying to bring your ideas together into something that makes sense on paper. You are still working. Do not beat yourself up. Walk away from the desk, get some air, and start again tomorrow.
9. You must prioritise your health – It is too easy to slip into habits of eating on the hoof, staying up late and getting up early to cram as many hours of work into the day. The worry that we will never get things done can easily overwhelm. It might take some effort, but make your health a top priority. Eat well, walk often and sleep properly (as best you can). Try not to take too many things on at once and always schedule time for yourself, whether that is going to the gym or out for a meal with friends.
10. Each year has its challenges but each year should be enjoyed! Try to remember that even when you feel lost (first year), you feel like it is never ending (second year), and you feel like there is not enough time (final year), you are still getting to work on a project you love (most of the time!)
If you would like to know more about the support and advice available to you as a researcher, visit the University of Glasgow Library Researchers’ Fair on 27 October
As ever, don't forget to share your thoughts and tips in the comments, or tweet us @UofG_PGRblog!