Thoughts on My First Year as a PGR
I’ve been a University student for quite a long time, but this past year was my first working strictly with research. I had assumed that the previous summer, which I’d spent researching for my master’s dissertation, would prepare me for the transition between a taught degree and a research program. And in some ways I was prepared, but there were still many aspects of this new life that surprised me and took awhile for me to get used to. Despite how satisfied, and relieved, I am at the end of my first year, there are still things I wish I had known coming into a research degree for the first time; hopefully this post makes those areas clearer for those of you who are about to start a postgraduate research degree.
I don’t think I’d really expected a research degree to feel so much like a job when I started last year, even though everyone told me it definitely would. But as I sit writing this post, I find myself wishing that a Tuesday could magically turn into a Friday, with a full two days ahead of me to do with as I please. I suppose this is due in part to the fact that I set up for myself something similar to a 9-5 schedule. Though it’s not as imposing as a regular work schedule (I’m not going to get into trouble if I don’t make it to my office by a certain time), it’s still one I try very hard to stick to. This sometimes makes my weekdays monotonous, but it always makes my weekends rewarding.
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash
That’s not to say I came to this schedule quickly or easily. My first few months as a research student were honestly a bit chaotic. I didn’t yet have a designated study space, I’d just moved into a new flat in a new part of the city, and I was starting my new degree in a department completely new to me. Not to mention, I had a hard time telling anyone ‘no’ when they asked if I’d like to be involved in new things. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a schedule those first few months. Consistency only came later, through trial and error and, some days, by just forcing myself to do work even when I didn’t feel like it. I won’t lie, it was harder than I expected it to be, and sometimes still is, but as my first year ends, I’ve finally found myself in a much more comfortable and confident space.
The amount of work a research degree requires is quite deceiving. And at the beginning of the academic year I was convinced I knew what I could and couldn’t handle – I was wrong. I forgot that, even though I’m an introvert, I love being involved with organisations and projects of all kinds. Like I said, it’s hard for me to say ‘no’. This resulted in me agreeing to take on more outside projects than I should have.
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I don’t necessarily regret any of them, but looking back, I can see that much of the time I should have spent working on outlines, abstracts, readings and drafts was instead spent working on other non-thesis tasks. Throughout almost the entire year, I was co-organising a conference, preparing to present at another conference, preparing an abstract for yet another, finishing my final draft for my Annual Progress Review, starting a new section of my thesis, co-editing an academic journal, applying for funding for a research trip and working. This might seem like a normal workload for some, but for a first-year research student, for me, it was verging on a bit too much. I almost wish I had taken a bit of time to let myself properly adjust first. At the end of the day, how much work you can handle is entirely up to you. Just don’t forget to check in on yourself every now and then. And definitely don’t forget that you are not required to say ‘yes’ to every single thing.
Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash
Overall, I’ve greatly enjoyed my first year as a PGR, even more than I thought I would. I’ve had challenges and successes and I’ve met wonderful fellow researchers to commiserate and celebrate with. I am both terrified and excited for the next two(ish) years. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I know I have a lot of new experiences to look forward to as well. And I can’t wait.