I’m in the slightly unique position of having lived in catered university halls throughout my entire academic career, from the very beginning of my BA to the (almost) end of my PhD. Since I’ve now got 7 (seriously, 7?! I just did a double-take) years of experience of halls, from both an undergrad and postgrad perspective, I thought I’d look at the benefits of living in halls throughout a PhD. I think there’s a tendency for PhD students to dismiss living in halls (especially catered ones) before much consideration, but I think it’s a fantastic experience! Here’s why…
1) You don’t have to worry about all the different bills. One of the things that really put me off looking for housing outside the university was that on top of making sure your rent goes out on time, you’ve also got to stay on top of bills for water, electricity, internet, TV licence, etc. etc. etc. … I even know some people who have ‘pay as you go’ electricity, so they have the added stress of worrying about how much they’ve used, and topping up the meter. The great thing about living in halls is that often it’s all covered in one bill, so it’s generally much easier to keep track of.
2) You’re part of a community. In a catered hall like mine, the sense of community is incredible. We all come together for meals three times a day, and chat about what we’ve been up to. Since my hall is so small, I also know everyone’s face and name, and have had a conversation with pretty much everyone. We’re also very close to the staff, who are like our surrogate families – this is especially great for international students who are a long way from home. For me, since my parents moved house from my childhood home, my hall has become my home, and my friends and the staff my surrogate family.
3) You don’t have to cook! Apart from anything else, I’m really bad at cooking – but I also often just don’t have the energy or time for it. And it’s not just not cooking – I don’t have to wash dishes or go food shopping either. This gives me the time to really focus on my research, without having to worry about all of these extra things. It also ensures that I’m eating a proper meal two or three times a day, which I doubt I would have done if I weren’t living here.
4) It’s good for your mental health. If, like me, you’re shy and have trouble talking to people, living in halls is a great way to make sure you don’t become too isolated. When I moved to St Andrews, my two accommodation options were a studio flat and the catered hall I’m now in. I can’t even begin to express how glad I am that I wasn’t put in the studio flat, where I would have been so isolated I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been well enough to carry on with my studies. My hall is my support network, and I’m so glad that it’s there – I owe a lot to it.
5) You might get to live in a beautiful building. I’m incredibly lucky with my hall, as I’m living in a Grade A listed building, with beautiful period features including a vaulted dining room, and a lovely walled garden with a view of it from my bedroom. I’m astonished every day that I’m able to live in such an incredible building.
6) You’ll make lifelong friends. One of the best things about living here for me are the people I’ve met, who are now some of my closest friends, and who I otherwise wouldn’t have known. I get to meet a huge variety of people studying very different things, and it’s really broadened my outlook. I think there’s often a tendency to befriend people in your school or faculty, but I think if you only do this, you’re really missing out. There’s also always at least one couple who get engaged from each of the years I’ve lived here– so you might even meet your future spouse!
There seems to be a general consensus that it’s odd for a PhD student to be living in halls – after all, we’re old enough to look after ourselves. But there are lots of reasons you might choose to live in a catered hall while you’re a doctoral candidate, so this stereotype shouldn’t put you off! I almost missed out on being in a catered hall when I first decided to go to uni because I thought I wanted to be self-catered – but I’m unbelievably glad that I was wrong. I strongly encourage every new PhD student to look into all the accommodation options available, to really find out what’s best for you.
Images kindly provided by David Jones.
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