Ten Things I learned in the First Year of my PhD

  1. Keep an annotated bibliography.

It helps to know what books you’ve read, but it helps even more to know which books were useful, and had good points and ideas to remember later on. If you write a lit review as part of your first year it also pays for itself many times over! Keep it critical of the work you’ve read, and also include any ideas on why the work you read might contribute (or not) to your overall thesis argument.

2. Communicate with your supervisors.

The supervisor-student relationship is a little complex. They’re kind of your boss, but they’re also there to help you to pass this thing. They can advise you on getting through obstacles, help with reading directions, and offer some help if you’re fully stuck on where to go next. They’re also busy, so a quick update is always useful.

3. Go to events

Most universities have loads of events in your first year- go to some! If you can’t make all of them, don’t worry. Most people don’t attend every single event every year. If you’re in SGSAH, you’ll have some amazing events to go to, most of which are in interesting places (and are catered!). It’s lonely doing a PhD, and these events are for networking, so…

4. Socialise!

You need a cohort, so find one! It doesn’t have to be the people in your department, faculty, or even uni. I have some great SGSAH mates from other Scottish HEIs, and PhD friends from further afield still. But you need people to bounce ideas off, to read over work, and to go to the pub with after a meeting. No man is an island!

5. Healthy Body = Healthy Mind

I, like the ancient Greeks, believe this to be true. Well, almost. It is sometimes good for your mental health to have a healthy diet and regular exercise. Go to the reduced veggie section in the supermarket, or the grocer’s. Have a stroll or cycle to campus, go for a swim, clean a beach, or even just have a regular stretch at the desk.

6. Take a break!

We are in a stressful, full-time job, and about half of the people who take it on will not complete it. I’ve had stress headaches this year for the first time in years, because, as my therapist put it, “you don’t take a break before you burn out, and that’s why you burn out!”.

7. Get organised

I’ve used my calendar and diary more this last year than I have in the previous five years. There are meetings and reviews and supervisions and deadlines and side jobs and house moves and medicals and more deadlines…and I’m not organised. So it’s been tough. Also, I’ve discovered that my supervisors really like it if I’m on time and date for meetings, rather than panic emailing them that I’ll be late (again).

8. Be kind to yourself

Self care is important, but so is recognising all the work you’re putting into the PhD. I wasn’t giving myself credit for the work I was doing most of the year, and it started to affect my health in anxiety symptoms coming through. I have a tendency to tell myself (and others) that I’m not working hard enough. It’s a problem I’m working on. Once again, your supervisors can help reassure you on this one, and so can your cohort mates and friends. You are working hard. You deserve to feel like it!

9. Keep the faith!

Yup. I definitely said, out loud, “why the **** did I think this was a good idea? What the hell am I doing?” in a busy cafe with my headphones on. It’s a tough one, but I found it really good to write down the reason I want this PhD at the start of the year (a good tip from Perin, who wrote a guest blog for us). Because it will be difficult to keep hold of that positivity at times, and that’s ok. People believe in you, including me (it’s kind of my default setting). That thing you’re writing? It’s awesome!

10. Enjoy the victories!

Give your fine self a pat on the back every now and then! The old adage is true, that “if you can be accepted for a PhD, you can finish a PhD”. It isn’t all doom and gloom in a PhD, and you’re doing a flipping PhD! Go you! It’s impressive, and it’s tough, and you’re a warrior.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Jimmy via email at james.johnson@stir.ac.uk or connect with the blog on Twitter

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