Making the transition into PGR-life
The transition into life as a postgraduate researcher is a pretty big one. Whilst some changes may seem difficult and challenge what you’re used to or are expecting, there are many perks and benefits to the uniqueness of the PGR experience! These are some of the main things I’ve noticed and learned during my journey from taught student, to full-time employee, to full-time research student.
Prior to starting my PhD, I was working full-time with PLOS, an open-access academic journal. One of the first things I noticed, which will probably be the same for those coming straight from a taught degree too, is the sudden lack of time structure. With a timetable that suddenly seems rather bare, it’s easy to feel a little lost and compared to office environments or taught research degrees where you meet your other peers frequently throughout the week, a little lonely too. However, a massive bonus to a freer timetable is the greater flexibility and independence you have to set your own schedule and attend the courses which are most suited to your needs. Unlike in employment, this has meant that I’m no longer restricted to developing only the skills strictly related to my job.
On this note, the University offers a range of training courses specifically for PGRs to choose from, including IT training and writing skills courses. Supervisors are also generally in a good position to alert you to relevant reading groups and taught courses that you can audit. I’ve found that the reading groups and courses I’ve attended, even if not directly relevant for my own research, have inspired new angles for my research and have also been a good way to keep in touch with my peers. If you feel like none of these are quite capturing your research interests, feel free to set up your own groups. If you’ve spotted a gap, the chances are that others will benefit from this too! This previous post provides more tips on the types of activities that you should pursue as you start your PGR life, and that can help direct you if you’re not sure how you should be managing your time.
Another challenge I noticed is that coming from full-time employment into a PhD can lead to quite a steep financial drop, even if fully-funded. However, there are many resources at the University that can help, including financial aid. The University has a number of internship positions too which provide a great way to gain some extra cash as well as build on experience. As well as interning as a PGR blogger (check out this post on why blogging is a great activity to get involved with!), I’m also teaching students at the Glasgow International College. Such teaching opportunities often pay quite well, and I am finding the experience of teaching a class particularly useful in helping me to figure out what I want to do post-PhD.
This leads me to my next point, which is that the adjustment away from full-time employment to PGR initially made me feel like I was putting my career on a bit of a hold as I re-focused on research and study. The University has a special careers adviser specifically for PGRs who can advise on career opportunities for research students. I’ve been to a few one-to-one appointments and found these really useful for highlighting the next steps I should take regarding career development.
At first, it was also difficult for me to gain a sense of achievement or progression due to the drawn out nature of a PGR project. During my time at PLOS, my daily tasks led to perceivable benefits, whether it was the help I providing to another colleague or to an editor, or the completion of a small project that I was leading. Translating this to my PGR experience, I’ve found that it helps to set my own short-term goals, such as attending a short course to develop skills, or getting through a few articles that I previously put aside due to time restraints. Completing such goals helps to keep my motivation levels up, and reminds me that I am taking steps - even if they are small! - towards achieving my end goal.
Image credit to Ian Schneider on Unsplash
These are a few of the things that I've found particular to my PGR experience, and ways that I've managed them as opportunities instead of obstacles. For me, the major plus side is that now I’m a PGR, I get to fully focus on researching a topic I am personally interested in, and am given the independence to set my own projects and tasks. So, whilst there are some reasons I miss working for PLOS, my PGR experience so far has definitely made the transition worth it!