A real slog: master the monotony

Two-and-a-half years ago, when I first decided to take on a PhD, there were a number of challenges that I was warned of by both students and supervisors – longevity, isolation and motivation over four years, to name just a few. But, now approaching the end of my third year, with the seemingly endless desert of time stretched out before me in which to actually “write the bloody thing”, I can now assuredly say that none of those things have posed the greatest test. Not even close. Continue reading

The last hurdle: preparing for a viva

Sometime in the future – a time and place that I cannot envisage at present – I will finish my thesis. It will have taken 3 years and consist of 75,000 words, as a PhD in English Literature dictates, and will have taken a large part of my soul to complete I imagine. I will afterward roam around a world without the daily writing and research, where I am not sat at my desk and rediscover the outdoors. However, I must be wary not to fall into the habit of doing nothing or lose motivation just then as I’ll have one more thing to complete: the viva voce. Continue reading

That’ll learn ‘em: a student’s guide to teaching students

Teaching was always one of the biggest draws for me when considering whether or not to take on a PhD, and the University of Sheffield offers some doctoral students the opportunity to teach first-year undergraduates during their second or third year of study. It is a great chance to not only gain invaluable experience in terms of future employment in academia, but outside of it too. Responsibilities typically consist of a one-hour seminar and one-hour office hour, where the student(s) can come and talk about any issues they have with the course, or materials/assessments they’d like clarified. I’ve been lucky enough to be taken on as a Graduate Teaching Assistant this year, in my third and final year of postdoctoral study, and I’m very much looking forward to the whole experience, though a little apprehensive too I must admit. Continue reading

The art of procrastination

Procrastination is a true art form – even now, my reason for sitting down to write this post is to avoid my thesis for a half hour or so if I’m being completely honest. The reason you’re reading this post may very well be due to the fact you are in the midst of a session of prime procrastination yourself. Your time doesn’t have to be wasted online, reading blogs (thank you) or flitting through social media to procrastinate, it only has to keep you from your primary task at hand. In a world of mobile devices with every kind of app you could possibly imagine, procrastination is easier than it’s ever been – and I am a consummate professional. Continue reading

“Can you hear me at the back?”: giving your first paper

There are certain things your encouraged to do during doctoral study to help your professional development and prepare for life after your research – as alien and far-off as that may sound to those in the midst of wrestling with their theses presently. These things can include publishing a review of a book or article in your chosen discipline, teaching practice or, as in this case, delivering a paper at a seminar or conference. Continue reading

“That’s a big mountain!”: Your first year as a PhD student

I thought I’d put a bit of a twist on all the useful “first-year” advice floating around at the moment and offer a few tips for those starting out on their journey into doctoral study. It can be an intimidating time, especially if you’re starting out at a new University in a new city. Hopefully, I can offer a few pearls of wisdom for those taking their first steps. Continue reading

Let’s talk about stress

Before starting at University I would never have considered myself to be a stressful or anxious person. As GCSE’s and A-Levels came and went, without breaking out into so much as either a literal or figurative sweat, I watched as others tried to cope with the effects of stress that exams inevitably bring with them. That’s not because I didn’t find the work challenging or difficult, but for whatever reason it didn’t affect me in the same way as it would do later in higher education. Plus, my attitude towards academic work at school perhaps wasn’t as mature as either it should have been or is nowadays. Continue reading

A sucker for punishment: should I do a PhD?

I think the most important thing to start with is that any decision to undertake a PhD should not be made lightly. It involves another 3 years’ full-time study (6 years’ part-time study) and, if you’re not lucky enough to have been awarded funding, a fair amount of money for both fees and living expenses. Not only do you need to consider the practicalities of doctoral study, but you need to also decide whether you can maintain a level of motivation and self-discipline that will see you research a subject in enough depth and with enough enthusiasm to make the thesis worthwhile. If you feel you can do all this, then a PhD may be the route you want to take – but here’s a few things I’ve learnt up along the way. Continue reading

Rugby-tackling baby elephants: my tips for thesis survival

Writing a thesis can feel like a truly daunting task. At the start, it seems like you’re standing at the bottom of a mountain that you know you have to climb, but the summit is cloaked by clouds and you haven’t even reached your first base camp yet. This thesis-shaped mountain also comes with its own unique set of metaphorical obstacles – rock slides, high winds and decidedly grumpy mountain goats. These roughly translate into problems like dead end research paths, project deadlines and other tasks like compulsory modules, conferences and paper submissions; all of which, whilst enjoyable, always take up more time that you anticipate. Continue reading

The logistics of working remotely

Studying remotely can be frustrating at times. You can’t just walk down to the library for a book, pop in to see your supervisor or just enjoy the University environment that can often help to motivate when motivation is low. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t aware of what studying remotely entailed, but nevertheless I find some days more of a struggle than others to stay on track. Whilst the University has systems in place to help those working remotely keep in touch and feel part of the wider academic community, I’ve discovered a few tips that certainly help me to navigate some of the trickier aspects of distance learning. Continue reading