7 things we wish we had known in first year…

It’s the time of year when PhD offices around the country will be seeing an influx of new PhD students. We would like to offer a huge welcome to the SCGRG PGR blog to our new Social and Cultural geography colleagues! We have also been reflecting on our experiences of the first year of our PhDs and we know it can be a confusing, frustrating and exciting time. As such we have put together a top 5 things that we wish we had known going into first year. Please feel free to add to this list and to refer to the PG Tips section of the website for more hints and tips!

1.      You don’t have to know what your PhD is about right away

It may seem obvious in hindsight but a major thing that many PhD students worry about in their first years is that they don’t know what their PhD is exactly about. This often isn’t helped by every friend and family member – pretty much anyone you tell that you are doing a PhD – will ask is “What’s your PhD about?” To counter this question is probably worth having a stock answer that you can tell people in answer to this question while in the background you can get on with working out what it actually might be about. There is no rush however, often you can continue on into the writing up stages before you work it out and this is more than ok!

2.      That there are 10000000000 ways to do a PhD

The next thing to say is that there is that there is no set way to do a PhD. This is true for every aspect from methods, writing style, where people work, how they work, the amount of time they take to do things or the order that they do them in. While there are a number of commonly used ‘formulas’ these are no better than any other way. First year is a great time to experiment and find the way to do it that suits you best!

3.      That you are not stupider than your peers

The second thing that people worry about is that they are not as clever or capable as their peers. It’s fair to say that ‘imposter syndrome’ is definitely a thing. The key thing to remember though is that no matter how calm or confident your peers may appear, they will also feel this way from time to time. If they tell you that they never do, then they are probably lying.

4.      To learn from other people around you

The people around you are a fantastic resource to learn from. Chances are that in your department there will be a wealth of experience in doing PhD, both from the people who have completed them already to the people who are only a year ahead of you. Talk to them all and get ideas, hints, words of advice and encouragement. As with most things, a PhD is a lot easier if you can learn from the mistakes and positives of other people.

5.      That reading widely is the best thing that you can be doing

There is an old adage that your PhD is the best time for reading. It’s something that can get a little tiresome to hear from your supervisors who will often tell you how jealous they are of you getting to read all the time when often all you want to do is write. Forgo this frustration if you can. Supervisors aren’t always right but in this case reading is a huge chance to explore a wider set of geographies to the ones that you are used to and to bring these through into your PhD as you go through.

6.      To use a reference manager

A more practical piece of advice now. Use a reference manager from the start! There are loads of options out there and many of them are free so have a look around and find one that works for you. It will make life infinitely easier when you come back to write the thesis and you can’t remember where you read that killer piece of information!

7.      That the RGS-IBG is a great resource

The final piece of advice is to use the RGS-IBG! They offer loads of information, advice and guidance, events and networks for Postgraduates. Obviously you have found us here at the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group but there are a tonne of other research groups. Join them and take part, each one has a Postgraduate Representative which is elected at the annual conference and many of them run sessions just for postgrads at that conference also. There is also the postgraduate forum who offer a conference in March just for postgrads. A great change to meet people and share your ideas in a friendly and fun environment.


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