GUEST POST: Some thoughts for new PhD students

This week’s guest post comes from Lydia Murtezaoglu, a new PhD student in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Lydia offers an excellent insight into her experiences of starting the PhD and how daunting that can be.

Starting a PhD is challenging, as I knew it would be. You are embarking on your greatest academic endeavour to date, imposter syndrome is a very real thing, and essentially, you’re on your own. These are things I knew, but what surprised me was the multitude of ways these challenges manifest themselves in different people. Whilst there are universal feelings which elicit a vigorous nod and an accompanying “me too”, there are also individual sentiments which makes you feel you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. I probably have one of these episodes at least once a day. Getting over it, requires me to think about why I’m feeling that way and what I can do about it.  I thought I should probably share something of my experience of getting into a PhD with you.

So, come September, I had been away from academic study for a year. A year may not seem like a long time but it’s enough to feel rusty. Those cogs need oiling. That said, I didn’t stray far from my history roots, I trained to be a tour guide at the Houses of Parliament before I was plucked by Lion TV to work as a Researcher on Horrible Histories. Understandably, I was in dream job territory. What recent MA Public History graduate wouldn’t want to work for Horrible Histories? There was however an itch which couldn’t be scratched by television research. Not just the growing desire to have those two small letters in front of my name (although I admit that was part of it) but I craved validation that I was indeed a real historian. As well as wanting an opportunity to control my own research and contribute to the field, obviously.

Fast forward several months and I found myself starting a PhD at Glasgow. Yet instead of the historian utopia I had imagined, I was plonked into English Literature. Over time, I have come to see this as a wonderful opportunity to develop new skills, learn new approaches and mix with a broader range of folk. At the start however, I experienced a sort of identity crisis. Throughout my undergraduate degree the history department had been intrinsic to my university identity. Here, I felt lost and I missed my people. Now of course, it sounds rather ridiculous, and I can see that it was really about moving to a new city, a new county even, and not a new department which had me in a tizz.


The University of Glasgow (Flickr)

Understanding this about myself has been vital to pushing forward because, whilst I’m almost certain I made the right choice to abandon television and pursue academia for the time being, I still feel rather inadequate sometimes. Personally, I think it’s essential to know what makes you tick and what ticks you off. We are all contradictory beasts after all. Knowing for example that I need pressure to work means I can create pressure for myself to get stuff done. This isn’t always successful and actually, when there is pressure, I can sometimes shut off completely and bury my head under the duvet. Not great, but I have a feeling that over the next three years I’m going to learn more about myself and get better at tackling these quirks. I’ll keep you posted!

Lydia Murtezaoglu is a new to a PhD within the Leverhulme Trust Collections research group at the University of Glasgow. Broadly, it aims to employ an interdisciplinary approach to analyse contemporary and historical collections. She is working on a project entitled ‘Second Cities of Empire: Glasgow and Calcutta’ which looks at the cultural exchange between these two cities during the long nineteenth century. You can contact her on Twitter @LMurtezaoglu and find out more about her PhD adventures on her blog, View Review Repeat.

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