It can be hard to know where to start with your PhD, or how to start back up after some time away. Sometimes motivation is found through your friends encouragement, sometimes from your supervisors setting targets and goals with you, and sometimes it even comes from blogs such as this (I mean…hopefully you do!). One thing that has helped me get my academic juices flowing has been the sense of belonging and commodore that comes with meeting other academics, particularly other PhD students.
Today I participated in a meeting at Parliament for a cause which is very important to me, and while there I sat next to a woman who saw my name and information on the sheet going around and said, ‘I see you’ve got a research email, are you doing your PhD?’ I told her yes, and then we got into a conversation about how she is doing a PhD as well in Edinburgh, and is in her third year. We are studying completely different topics (no really, the science behind chicken appetites versus New Zealand place-names level of different) but we were there together, united by this outside interest.
Sometimes I find academia can be rather isolating, and the smaller your discipline the fewer new faces you meet on a regular basis. Eventually, even at conferences where you’d expect to network with new people, you find you know a majority of the people in attendance and on the panels. In some ways this is a good thing: you’re getting more involved in your discipline and becoming immersed in the community that comes with it, but it can also create that sense of needing to bring something outstanding to the table each time. If they met you at the last conference and you are still going on about the same thing, is that good enough (short answer- yes, you’re working towards a thesis)?
Meeting people outside of the usual cohort of folk you’re surrounded with can create a great sense of empowerment. By having to give the 3-minute elevator pitch of your PhD topic to another individual who still understands the PhD experience, but isn’t in your department, discipline, or even University, is a great feeling. Seeing someone doing a PhD taking the time to become involved with things outside the PhD is also a great feeling- it is almost validating. ‘You’re here taking time out of your research for this too? Amazing!’
When I attended my first conference I was giving a paper at, I was terrified and was so prepared to be judged and shot down. However, the opposite happened: instead of being judged I was encouraged, instead of being shot down, I was supported. The overwhelming sense of empowerment I felt sitting in a room full of people that payed attention when I spoke gave me the kick-start I needed to get going on my research upon my return. I felt supercharged, like I was ready to dive right into my work that people sat and actually listened to me talk about!
Today’s meeting reminded me of that feeling. Sitting in a room full of people, discussing and sharing something we all were passionate about, and then having the floor to use my voice and have others listen, empowered me. As PhD students we have already been trained on transitioning our thoughts to written word, but don’t forget the power of your voice to speak those words aloud. Speak at conferences, go to events that appeal to you and talk to others who had the same interests, and get involved with causes you care about. Whether you’re just starting your PhD journey, or writing-up, make the effort to put yourself out there and do things that make you feel empowered throughout your PhD.
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