Talk me through the first weeks (PhD)

(28 Posts)
giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 14:54:42

Just that really. Once registration is over where we do the where is the library, who's who and so on. I've had three meetings with my supervisors over the summer. We've just set my first task which involves reading the literature related to an area of my thesis and then doing a report on it.

So do I just rock up on day one and sit down and read? (I know where the shared researchers office is and that I have a laptop). Should I check in with my supervisor at the start to let them know I'm there? Just curious as to what other people did in there first few weeks.

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PiratePanda Sun 03-Sep-17 17:11:28

Humanities, social sciences, or sciences? It will differ massively.

I am assuming humanities from your post. You should have discussed with your supervisor how often you will be meeting with them (usually no less than once a month in the first year), and what you and s/he think your training needs are (do you need to top-up a language? Take a specific methods course?).

At about the end of 12 months, you will have to upgrade from MPhil to PhD, which usually involves writing a chapter of your thesis, an abstract, a detailed chapter plan of the whole thing, and a timetable for finishing. So that is what you are aiming for from week 1.

Yes, I would make an appointment to see your supervisor when you arrive, but that may already be built into your induction day.

What you really need is a good filing system on your computer, and a matching one on your shelves (especially if you prefer to print out journal articles to read them).

The Thesis Whisperer is the best and most comprehensive site I know that helps you with all the questions you can possibly think of about the pains and travails process of doing a PhD and beyond. Do have a browse.

flumpybear Sun 03-Sep-17 17:14:49

They usually have a programme set up and it's important to meet other students too - I recall it being much time in the lab learning but also down the pub with my new friends!! Library access etc is sorted out usually when you arrive as lots of PhD students actually don't arrive (particularly those from abroad who are paying for themselves as they may have a better offer elsewhere

Good luck 😉 enjoy and don't take it too seriously, have some fun too ... I'm sure you will

user1494149444 Sun 03-Sep-17 17:38:43

Take as many induction courses you can (e.g. library filing systems; digital resources; administration requirements), and ask lots of questions (even if you think they sound stupid).
Their is a wealth of knowledge at the university among the academic and support staff; the knack is getting them to share it, as so many of them are quiet, introspective souls.
I'd also ask your supervisor about potential teaching work; it is a good idea to get experience under your belt if you are considering an academic career. He/she may say wait until your second year, but it's important to show you are interested as then they can put your name forward if any part-time teaching roles turn up.
Most importantly, it's a marathon, not a sprint, so try to enjoy it as the first year is often the most social and fun.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 03-Sep-17 20:07:36

Network! Make friends with the second/third/fourth year PhDs. Get on twitter and follow other PhDs/academics. Then you'll have a whole load of people to help you find your feet, and if you're worried they'll set you straight.

Supervisors are really different. I had three, and they all expected slightly different things. It can help to do a lot of emailing, so that you and they both have a record of what you're doing, especially early on where you might get the wrong end of the stick.

Do get used to the idea that you are the one who has to be making the contacts. You need to put yourself out there with other students (who'll become your research network post-PhD, too), and with the wider community.

emmaluvseeyore Sun 03-Sep-17 20:13:28

I would definitely check out the courses on offer to you as a research student. I found it particularly helpful to do a course on the library, effective searching for literature and effective storing of said literature. I advise you to get a system in place for that asap as it will save you a lot of hassle when you come to writing up. Also agree with sorting out a good system on your computer. I did a science PhD that used a lot of programming and regretted not coming up with a good system for naming my program files!

giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 20:47:20

Sorry should have been clearer. Yes social sciences course. Yes I meet with my supervisors once a week and I have a timetable for the first few months which include training needs (I am on a mandatory stats course already). I'm ok with all the stuff to I have to do in terms of admin, training etc. I guess I was more asking what you did say one after induction. Did you just come in, sit down and start reading articles?

Sorry being a bit glib here. I know what I'm doing but obviously it is very different from a masters where you have seminars to attend etc.

Just curious if people kind of mooched around campus the first few weeks or did lots of work straight of the bat.

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giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 20:48:47

emma I've downloaded manderley which I've heard is good for sorting literature but a course at the library sounds like a good idea.

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giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 20:56:01

I realise my opening post makes me sound like an idiot grin I'm on top of most things as mentioned above e.g. Good contact with supervisor, already got dates scheduled for whole next year, know about progress tracker, assessment of needs for courses etc, have y first deadline set, following lots of people on social media and set up a blog...

I guess I just wondered what people did in their first days. No lab work and my supervisor is fine with me working from home. Guess I'll familiarise myself with best coffee and campus and start reading.

I'm a mature student very old so will attend all required events but not as many social events outside that.

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CommonFishDiseases Sun 03-Sep-17 21:04:54

I'm so glad you asked this, I am starting my social sciences PhD next week and was thinking the same! Thanks everyone for the tips.

giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 21:10:54

common so glad I'm not the only one. Sure it will all become clearer after registration. If nothing else I'll just turn up on the Monday with a few articles tucked under my arm and read (I think I worry my supervisor won't think I'm doing any work unless I am seen to be sitting there doing something which is stupid as the proof is in the delivery of my work, I know).

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AgentCooper Sun 03-Sep-17 21:18:59

Oh I felt exactly the same before starting mine! That's great that there is a shared office - we didn't have one until one was opened with an alumnus donation in my second year and it makes such a difference.

Yes, definitely check in with your supervisor(s) and sign up for the workshops on offer. And yes, find out if there's any teaching on offer (but don't worry if there isn't in your first year - once you've been there a while and are there for the timetabling period it's much easier to get something). If there's a postgraduate club/students' association, join up. Or indeed a Facebook group.

On my first day, I basically just sat down in the library, got some books and articles and started taking notes.

flumpybear Sun 03-Sep-17 21:37:33

Which universities are you at?!

flumpybear Sun 03-Sep-17 21:38:02

@OP and common that is

giggleshizz Sun 03-Sep-17 21:40:31

Will have to name change after this but Southampton 😀

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allegretto Sun 03-Sep-17 21:48:52

I have just finished my PhD there giggleshizz! grin I can't help an awful lot though as I was mainly distance learning. There are lots of useful research skills running - my supervisor also recommended some MA research modules to help narrow fown my research. Apart from that - get reading and writing! It is really important to write about what you're reading even if you don't end up using it - I used very little of the two chapters I wrote for my upgrade in tge end but they were useful at the time. What area are you in?

allegretto Sun 03-Sep-17 21:51:28

Sorry, meant to say "research skills courses".

Flywheel Sun 03-Sep-17 22:12:54

Different supervisors have very different expectations. Mine only cared about results. He did not care where or when I did the work, so long as I made progress and was available to meet him when it suited him. Others within the same department very much cared about presenteeism, didn't approve of working from home and expected long hours to be spent in the lab. To begin with spend some time working out what the expecrations are and just get stuck in to the literature. Mendeley is good. Get organised, get reading and make some contacts. And have some fun. I also did my PhD as a mature student and made some wonderful friends of all ages. Great experience.

impostersyndrome Sun 03-Sep-17 22:14:49

Ignore whatever you're already doing, but I normally advise things like:

Medium term - Think about setting up a reading group if there are others in your area of research. Look into campus or city-wide discussion events, lecture series.

Short term - Think about doing a project planning course if you haven't managed your own research before. After all, you're not reading aimlessly I assume, but have a question to answer. What are your targets for reaching the upgrade deadline? Plan them out, pin the plan to the wall, and voila, you will look like someone engaged with their work.

PiratePanda Mon 04-Sep-17 09:24:47

My advice is that you should get into a routine work schedule as soon as possible, and stick with it. So yes, start reading and taking notes from day 1 (once you have found out where the nearest source of caffeine is, of course!).

You should also go to your departmental colloquium, which will probably be once a week. That's where you will hear what cutting-edge research is being done today, and learn what is normal in your field for delivering a research paper. You will also meet and network with the other researchers in your department.

PiratePanda Mon 04-Sep-17 09:45:21

One more thing that also often trips up my students is the rhythm of the university year. There are busy and fallow times for academic and professional services staff, and if you really need a form signed or a draft read urgently, you need to plan in advance so you can work with the rhythm not against it.

In my experience - and other places/disciplines might be different - if you urgently need academics or professional services staff to do something, avoid asking during the following times:

Freshers/induction week and the first week of semester 1 (except in your first year, when you will be scheduled in).

First week of semester 2.

Christmas to New Year - this is just about the only time in the year when the entire institution will shut down.

August. This one is critical. If you need an important piece of paperwork signed, ask in July or September.

The problem with August is that this is peak season for academic and professional services staff to be away, and often completely inaccessible. Typically academic staff don't take their full holiday entitlements, but even if they are not on holiday, they are likely to be halfway up a volcano or doing fieldwork in a remote Ugandan village or in a basement archive that doesn't have wifi. And even if they are in the UK and not on holiday they will be working from home, which could easily be hours away from the department.

Also, depending on your institution, the May exam period is often crazy busy, with everyone on short, hard deadlines for marking and administering results. In my institution it's actually fine for most academic staff, but the chair of the exam board (who could be your supervisor) and the professional services team will be going nuts.

If in doubt, ask!

NewbieAcademic Mon 04-Sep-17 09:49:11

Yes just turn up and start reading!
Others have mentioned already but go to all inductions / meetings with funding bodies / social events. This is a great time to get to know all the opportunities available and start meeting people.

Keep notes on what you read using excel or some clear method that'll serve you well over the course of a PhD. And rather than reading "wildly" I'd be inclined to come up with a specific task - say writing the first chapter or answering some specific question via a literature review and work towards that.

Also I found it useful to dress up and go into the office every day, rather than work from home etc. So much more productive! Good luck!

giggleshizz Mon 04-Sep-17 10:06:42

Some brilliant tips thanks. My first task is to focus on one narrow aspect of my thesis so I'm going to get tuck in to that then. I had planned to treat it as a 9-5 job as much as I can but to flex where I can around childcare.

Seems like time planning and target setting is the way to go. I have dates set for my first data collection so I also need to start planning for that. Drinking coffee and reading I have no issue with smile

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PiratePanda Mon 04-Sep-17 11:04:14

Make sure you have your research ethics clearance in place first, before you do any data collection, otherwise you won't be able to use it in your thesis!

In fact, that's what you should be doing this week - your research ethics clearance form!

giggleshizz Mon 04-Sep-17 16:42:47

Thanks Panda. Yes I am (hopefully) on top of the ethics thing as had to do similar for my MA thesis.

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