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Starting a PhD is like reliving your first day of school

Starting a PhD is like reliving your first day of school

So I have entered week 4 of the PhD, and I think that from now on this is how I will format my posts, by week and day number; unless there are some bonus ones of course.  

To begin with, I have spent 16 of the 22 days of my PhD sober as I am trying to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and although I’ve already raised £325 (!), it’s been quite difficult to not have the opportunity to wind down with a glass of wine, or two, or three, at the end of the day. I imagine that you’re probably thinking, ‘Why would she need to wind down at this stage? She’s hardly started her course yet!’ But please give me a chance to explain… Starting a PhD is like reliving your first day of school; it’s exciting, but also very daunting. You find yourself trying so hard to fit in and impress your peers and seniors, but mostly feel lost, confused, and exceedingly anxious, and you have no choice but to dive in at the deep end. Moreover, you’re constantly striving to find your way around the establishment which will become your second home, or first, if you’re doing a PhD… Personally, I’m also trying to find my way around Sheffield, a city that is completely new to me, and has its own tram system, which is very bewildering… Basically, it feels like life is going by you at a thousand miles an hour, but at the same time it feels like you’re not moving at all. To sum up, starting a PhD is a little overwhelming. But they told us to expect this, and to just bottle up and deal with it, which I am perfectly fine with, but change is never easy.

However, the last few weeks have been very insightful, and I am starting to piece together what my life will look like over the next 4 years. The universities have done a brilliant job of easing us into the programme, and have provided us with realistic expectations, a bountiful collection of supportive materials, and a network I’ve only ever dreamed about having throughout my previous degrees.

To say that I have a great deal to learn about my subject is an understatement, so it’s quite good that I enjoy reading. I have started a PhD in Environmental Engineering without an engineering background, so that should be a fun challenge… I mean, I can tell you all about the way pitcher plants engineer their traps, or how bees engineer their hives and master the wiggle dance, but to tell you in detail how the water distribution network operates is out of the question… which, ironically, is the entire question of my PhD.

I guess what I am trying to do, is to prepare you in advance for posts filled with emotion, exhaustion, exhilaration, and many other words that begin with the letter ‘e,’ apparently. 

At this stage, I do not have much else to add. I am meeting my supervisors this week in order to formulate a basic plan of action, which I honestly cannot wait for! Meanwhile, I’m going to go back to reading literature on water, whilst thinking about water with a slightly altered chemical composition, containing a few extra oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon molecules (C2H6O)… cheers!

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P.P.S. Non-alcoholic beer is the worst.


Anastasia Doronina is a PhD researcher in Water Engineering. This story was published on October 16, 2017, on Anastasia’s blog, The Diary of a PhD Student (available here), and has been republished here with her permission. 

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