Life as a PhD student

N.B. Have made a few amendments since the original posting (on reflection I decided to clarify a few points!).

Right, I'm going to cut straight to the chase here: I find being a full-time PhD student a very isolating experience. Are the years spent working towards a doctorate meant to be a struggle? Is doing a PhD simply a matter of survival? I'm very aware that my PhD is my life. Diversions are few and far between. I need to find some head-space, but when would I have time to do other things? I spend most of my time very unsure; about my research, about where my life is heading. I'm sure it can't just be me who feels this way - in fact, I KNOW it's not just me.

So, assuming it isn't just me, I'm struck by the apparent lack of 'community' support out there for research students. I'm sure part of the problem is that we get terribly comfortable as undergraduate or masters students, and being thrown out on our own, as new PhD students, is a bit of of a shock to the system. Having said that though I think we all very quickly get caught up in our own research (perhaps its part of the research 'culture'; that fear that someone else is going to come along and nick your ideas, so for heaven's sake don't let too much slip - the postgrad equivalent of shielding your test answers from prying eyes!) and forget the benefits of sharing our time with other people. Really, when do we get opportunities to bounce ideas off others - other than our supervisors, or even just to hang out with other people who understand what we're going through? That is the value of a collaborative blog (what The Attic is supposed to be!). It gives us the opportunity to come together and share experiences, worries, and advice even when we can't in person, as most of us are not campus-based.

I've recently been thinking a lot about what happens post-PhD. Perhaps those of you who are about to submit or have just finished could let us know what life is like out there in the big bad world of academia? My worry at the moment is that I'm wasting my time (and money). Will I have a career at the end of all this? Or will I be just as unemployable as I was before I started?

It's amazing how many non-Leicester people out there are reading the blog. Please feel free to pass on your thoughts, comments or suggestions (providing you promise to comply with our 'comments policy'!), especially if you're a PhD student based at another institution - it would be great to forge some cross-institution/cross-discipline links via this blog.


Ceri said…
I felt sad reading your comment but I see where you are coming from. Maybe I had a poor undergraduate experience but I never really felt part of a research community as such at University. I was in the History department and although I got on well with some fellow 'historians' and tutors, there still lacked the spirit to want to get together and discuss our research. Even social events were hit and miss. I remember one time our tutor, with whom we were studying the reign of Richard II, invited the seminar group to the pub before the end of term. Only about 4 from a group of 15 turned up but we had a great time. It was the same when we had a group trip to Lincoln only a small number went.

Therefore I don't feel that I am isolated particularly and as someone who tries to take advantage of all opportunities that come my way (and feel guilty when can't participate because of work) I think my experience is very singular. My wish would be to create some kind of informal get-together when maybe we could discuss issues related to PhD, whether theory, research methods, etc, maybe once a month or less and see how that goes? It could even talk about general issues in the museum world even if it is just bringing a copy of the Museum Journal! Maybe we could set topics at a later date but make it informal at first.

Attic said…
Hey Ceri!

I'm glad you're here, cos I often feel like I'm talking to myself. ;) I guess you're right. Thinking back to my days as an undergraduate, there weren't many opportunities to socialise with my coursemates - but I'm inclined to think that had more to do with my own lack of self-confidence than anything else. And it's true, a few people can still have a great time, which I think the 'usual suspects' (you know who you all are!) can attest to. But, I still think it's a shame that not more of us are able to get together, in person or vitually, more often. So, your idea of a regular, informal get-together sounds like a great idea (and I think it's something we've discussed in the past). We'll have to get our heads together and come up with a plan for the New Year... :)
Lena Lee said…
It is very right that doing phd is kind of lonely way to walk. Sometimes even I felt that my life has been deserted as I chose to do a phd, which is not true at all.

Closed to the end of the phd, what I found about this is that doing phd must be a hard experience but still it gives me very fruitful and useful life skills to survive.

You will have, of course without doubt, academic knowledge and intelligency in your study area at last. At the same time, the know-hows in our daily life you will acquire throuthout the study are priceless and you definitely will appreciate it at some point.

Hope my comment will do some good for any of us who ain't sure about they are doing.

Don't worry too much. Life is all ways meant to be experimental and challengable.
Attic said…
Thanks Lena. I was feeling very miserable when I wrote that post and your comments have cheered me up no end! I'm glad to hear that there is hope for the future - a light at the end of a very long, tortuous tunnel. ;)
Anonymous said…
Hi I just read your blog!!! I hope whatever your doing gets you best in your life. A reseracher is unique...Be happy that people like Edison, Einstein..all belong to your category.So it's a noble profession.I definitely think that what seems isolation for you now would get you enormous happiness later.This is just a passing cloud!!! Be positive and hopeful!
good luck!!!

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