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How I spent my very first month as a PhD student

How I spent my very first month as a PhD student

So, exactly one month ago today, I was on my way to my very first day as a PhD-er. I was a bundle of nerves, terrified I was going to get lost in the roundabouts of Milton Keynes and full of imposter syndrome-itis (it’s a real thing, look it up!). Here’s what I got up to in my first month as a PhD student:

WEEK #1:

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  • I registered, and got my fancy ID card.
  • I also attended the induction conference, which was fabulous. We were basically bombarded with important info over two days, like using the library services and who to contact, and dates for probation and… just EVERYTHING we needed to know. It was fun and overwhelming and a great start to my studies. Also, it was fab meeting all the other PhD students, studying some fabulous subjects.
  • I also re-familarised myself with some important books in my areas of study.
  • AND I brought a lot of post-it notes (a student-essential).

WEEK #2:

  • I went to a great seminar on the ‘parity of esteem’ by Professor Simon Lee.
  • I also had my first meeting with my supervisor, Dr Caroline Derry, where I set a provisional date for myself, to send over a draft of my literature review.
  • I completed some online modules, on starting my research and on my literature review.
  • I booked future training courses, did a lot more reading, and started tentatively typing up notes.

WEEK #3:

  • I started this blog!
  • I also dislocated my knee (boo!), but did more reading and tentatively started on my lit review.
  • I went to a meeting with a PhD study group, which was fun.

This week was probably the most challenging so far. I think the initial high of starting my PhD had worn off, and I felt a little overwhelmed with everything I had to do, whilst at the same time not being 100% sure of my direction.

WEEK #4:

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  • I read some more (I know, shocker!).
  • I went to a seminar on methodology. I understood some of it, which I was pretty darn proud of.
  • I continued working on my lit review.
  • I felt a bit more secure in myself, in what I was doing, and where I was going.
  • My knee finally felt better, so I took my dog to the park!

Okay, so what have I learnt?

(1) IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY

The start of a PhD is a massively confusing time. Not only are you grappling with (potentially) a new campus, new colleagues, and a new supervisor, but you’re also trying to get your head around your project, and at the start it sometimes feels a bit much. Take a deep breath, and continue plowing on (also, chocolate helps).

(2) BE OPEN

This point is a little bit more personal for me. I have a disability, and that has an impact on my life. I knew I’d struggle with balancing, making sure I was able to get to campus on a regular basis, and actually doing the work I needed to. I’m not sure I’m quite there yet with making this balance work, but I think being open with my supervisor about my disability has really helped in my first month. 

(3) GET INVOLVED

I joined the PhD study book club with some fellow law students, and I’m hoping to sign up for some more extra-curricular activities in the near future. I want to be involved in the uni community – that’s hopefully going to happen in the next month.

(4) IT’S OKAY TO HAVE A DAY OFF

I’m a bit of a workaholic. I tend to work myself till I’m ill, and beat myself up for having a day off. This month, I’ve tried to go easy on myself, and enjoy days with my friends and family, without thinking about work. Setting my alarm early and getting myself into a ‘working day’ routine has really helped with this goal.

So there you have it. That’s what I did in my first month as a PhD student. It’s been a hectic and stressful, and simultaneously exciting & fulfilling month. It’s everything I dreamed of and more, and I count myself as lucky since I get to do something so fun. I will update this blog on what I get up to in November in a month’s time.


Laura Noakes (@lauranoakes) is a PhD student at the Open University School of Law. This story was published on November 2, 2017 on Laura’s blog, ‘The Portia Post’ (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.

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