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Posted on 3 Nov '17

PhDebut - Reflecting on the First Month of My Doctorate

Melanie Brown recently began her PhD in Law at Bournemouth University. In a previous post she shared her experiences of applying for (and winning!) a studentship. Here she looks back on the first month of her doctorate and describes what postgraduate research is really like.

I started my PhD at Bournemouth University a month ago, looking at copyright law in the film industry. And it’s been an incredibly busy and exciting month!

I’ve already adopted a productive research-routine, discovered additional ‘extra-curricular’ opportunities and formed a great social circle with my fellow students. In this post I’m going to talk a little about these experiences and hopefully give you some idea of what the beginning of a PhD has been like for me.

Getting started

There are about 20 new PhD students who have started in my faculty. Most of us are full-time on campus, but others are working via distance learning. We have access to a large number of workshops that we can attend, covering various aspects of PhD research. As my PhD is in Law, there are no compulsory lab lectures or workshops, unlike the animators, engineers and scientists who all have set lectures that they have to attend.

My first task has been to work on a literature review: this is a survey of current research and scholarship in my field that will help to set up my PhD (and show that I’m doing something original!).

My supervisors and I have agreed to meet every two weeks to discuss what I’ve been reading, if anything in particular has caught my eye and to go through any questions that I have. At this stage, I’m immersing myself in my subject: reading broadly within copyright law and European copyright law. My supervisors suggested I take this broad approach, and I’m very grateful for this advice. I’ve come across things I otherwise wouldn’t have found.

One thing this process is bringing home is how much I love my research area; it’s highly unusual to be able to spend so much time reading about topics and ideas that interest you!

My weekly routine

I’m lucky enough to have a personal workspace on campus and I’ve tried to take advantage of that – treating my PhD work like a full-time job.

I try to stick to a Monday-Friday working week, getting into my office at about 8:30 each morning and staying until about 6-7 each evening. My desk is in a room with about 10 other PhD students. We are all in the same faculty (Media and Communication), but our research areas vary greatly. A lot of the other PhD researchers are animators, so they have already come to my aid with my computer issues, as they know a lot more about that than I do!

Once I’m in the office, I read textbooks and articles for most of the day, making notes as I go. In addition to my literature review work, I might have a PhD workshop to attend, or sometimes we’ll go to a talk given by an academic about their research.

The freedom to set my own working routine is great, but it can also be a challenge. It’s difficult to know when you’ve done ‘enough’ for the day. I’ve tried to solve this problem by setting targets and sticking to them: I choose about 4 or 5 things from my on-going to-do list each day, and if I achieve those, I know I’m on track. Find whatever works best for you, but I would strongly recommend keeping a record of what you’re doing each day, to prevent any feelings of guilt that you should have done more.

Other opportunities

As you’d expect, a lot of my time so far has been taken up with my own project: immersing myself in the work I’ll be using (and adding to!) during my PhD. But that’s not all I’ve been doing.

There are a wealth of opportunities available to you as a PhD student, both professionally and socially. We’ve been invited to lots of talks/ seminars by various academics presenting their work. These are all interesting, and I strongly recommend that you go to any talk offered to you. There’s always something that can relate back to your work in some way.

There are also opportunities for PhD students to present their own research at internal events. I’ve agreed to give a short presentation at my faculty’s conference this month. I’m nervous to present my work at this stage, but I want to get in as much practice as possible. I’d rather get some constructive criticism now about my presenting skills, than in three years’ time during my viva!

The social side: a pleasant surprise

The social side of my PhD has been a pleasant surprise. I’d expected to be a solitary creature, with very few friends. Luckily, this has not been the case. Several times after a long day in the office I’ve been to the university bar with my PhD colleagues, all of us eager to unwind after spending the day focusing so intently on one thing. We often also go for lunch together, and chat in the mornings when we all arrive at the office.

Taking things a step further (quite literally) I’ve also signed up as a Challenge Leader on a university trek to Iceland next summer, raising money for the Children’s Society. We’ll be hiking over mountains and glaciers, seeing icebergs, lagoons and mountains. I adored Iceland when I went two years ago, so I can’t wait to go back.

As Challenge Leader I’ll be helping people with their fundraising (and fundraising for the charity myself) and making sure that everyone is happy and looking forward to the trek next August. I’ll have to make sure that I balance the fundraising alongside my PhD, but I think it will be manageable.

Managing money

If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know that I managed to secure a studentship for my PhD. This has been a big help, but I still need to pay attention to my finances.

My funding gets back-dated, which is understandable, but most PhD students who relocate have to put down at least one month’s rent as a deposit, as well as at least one month of living costs. Unfortunately, we receive the money after paying this out. Don’t let that put you off, but it’s worth remembering that even with a funded PhD, you want to make sure you have enough money saved up for a few months!

Looking to the future

So far, my experience of PhD study has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve made new friends, taken on new challenges (both academic and personal) and had the opportunity to immerse myself in a topic I’m enthusiastic about – with the support of supervisors who are just as enthusiastic as I am.

I hope the next month is as good as this one has been!

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Last Updated: 03 November 2017