CREATe-ing a Guide for New PhD Students
Amy Thomas is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the CREATe centre at UofG. Her thesis work looks at the ‘user’ in copyright law and how this may be understood through terms and conditions. Her other research interests include copyright aspects of video games and eSports. In this question-and-answer post, Amy discusses her experience in helping to produce the CREATe PhD Welcome Guide, a document designed to give advice about starting a new role as a CREATe PhD as well as guidance on working life within UofG.
What is the CREATe PhD Welcome Guide and why was it developed?
The guide was written by PhD students for PhD students. We wanted to create something friendly and accessible for newcomers that could potentially save a lot of stress in your first year. The CREATe centre (@copyrightcentre on Twitter) is very supportive, and obviously nothing will replace the help of a PhD buddy, but we hope the guide is a close second!
Before we put the guide together, we wanted as much diversity in input as possible, so we spoke to PhDs both past and present, including GTAs and international students. What really stood out from this was that no two students will have the same PhD experience, but there is certainly some advice that can make your time a whole lot easier and less stressful.
Parts of the guide are very specific to intellectual property law, so information on recommended courses, conferences and contacts may not be appropriate outside of our department. However, we hope that others can use the guide as a format for their own PhD students, and reflect on what advice they would give to newcomers. It can be a very cathartic task!
What sort of information is included? Why is it important?
We wanted to cover a broad swathe of issues. When you start your PhD you’re of course worried about your thesis, how you’ll get on with your supervisor, etc., but also about day-to-day issues of how to work a printer, what to do if you get locked out of your office, how to book a room. After a few months you might even be starting to think about conferences, courses and summer programmes. These were some of the common concerns that our new PhDs highlighted, so we tried to give comprehensive information about each.
There’s often a perception that with a PhD the nature of the beast is that you’re isolated, but we don’t see any reason why this should be the case. The guide stresses that you’re not alone if you feel like an imposter (page 4), that you can and should reach out to others for support (page 3), and that there are plenty of ways to get involved in your school, your university and the wider world of your research area. We believe your first year should be exciting and full of curiosity, not stress and confusion.
What are the highlights of the guide?
Our ‘Top Tips’ section (pages 1-5) deals with common concerns most PhD students experience. Here we talk a little about things like imposter syndrome, when to be brave and say ‘yes’ to the scary and unknown (read: public speaking), and how to say ‘no’ when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Others are a bit more pragmatic – ‘write early, write often’ and ‘frontload your first year’ is advice that will benefit you in the long run, even if you don’t believe it now!
Making the effort to create consolidated lists of PhD-friendly conferences and courses (pages 10-15 and 18-20) was a task worth doing. At least for our field, this type of information doesn’t exist all in one place – it’s split across the minds of supervisors, blogs and the Twitterverse. So as a resource, we hope this is something that will grow over time and serve as a reference point for other IP law PhDs elsewhere.
The De-PhD section (pages 21-22) was both fun and important to write. We wanted to stress that although the PhD is a big and important part of your life, it shouldn’t take over every aspect of it. There’s lots of suggestions about the fun to be had around Glasgow, from the outdoor adventures to the best West-End eats and the arts scene.
What do you think? Would you have liked to have this guide when you started? Is there something you would add? Does your department have a similar resource, or does this make you think about creating one? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @UofG_PGRblog and @copyrightcentre.