It’s about to start, my PhD course. I’m officially registered now, but as of Monday, I will be a probationary PhD student. I have a week of induction to get through, then the project begins. I’m excited and nervous all wrapped up in one; there’s a lot of networking to get through next week and networking is not something I’m very good at. At the moment, at least. Things always improve with practice and I’m going to be getting a lot of practice!
This course is going to be very different to anything that I’ve done before. My two previous degrees were both taught degrees: that is, there were a series of modules with assigned credits, classes that I had to show up for, assignments to complete – to above specific marks – in order to pass. In other words, a taught student, whether BA or MA, is marching to someone else’s drum. The learning is predefined, even the assignments (dissertation apart) are predefined.
A PhD, as a research degree, is completely different. The PhD is about researching, not to tell your teacher how much you know, but to push the boundaries. To provide something new, original. This graphic from Matt Might describes it very well. To put it succinctly: I’m aiming to grow a pimple on the face of human knowledge. But there are no restrictions other than the ones you, yourself, place. There are milestones that you have to hit, certain things to achieve, yes, but otherwise, this time, I’m the drummer. I’m the one leading the way, determining what my project is, what I research, and what – and even when – I submit. It’s difficult for non-academics to understand, I think, the huge difference between the two – and the terrifying emptiness, almost, that seems to herald the next three years. This time two years ago, or last year? I was busy – putting class dates, assignment due dates, into my diary. This time around? Nothing. I have induction dates. I have a date in 2019 when my funding runs out. I have a date in 2020, when I HAVE to submit my thesis by. Beyond that… nothing. The pages of my diary currently gleam as cleanly as they do on January 1st.
Having said that, I’ve been doing some reading over the last few days – of University regulations, mostly – and I’ve gained a much better idea of what is expected of me as a result. I have to pass a probationary review in a year, which involves writing a probationary review report (only 5-10k words) and face a probational review panel. I will have monthly supervisory meetings, and at the end of the second year (and third, if I have not submitted by then), a progress review report (2.5k words) and panel. I am expected to undertake a certain amount of skills and career development training – exactly what, is left to the student. And that doesn’t account for any additional things that I need to do as a Midlands3Cities student. It’s clear that I am the one who has to take responsibility for driving my learning, not just in terms of showing up, not even in terms of organising meetings (which I will have to do) but in terms of leading the meeting, in terms of being the one doing most of the talking, in terms of making sure the project Gets Done.
I can’t wait!
Next week’s induction promises to be busy. I am lucky, at least, in that it’s on familiar ground; I know where to go and I won’t be one of those people peering at a map wondering where the *bleep* XYZ room is. Monday is the initial introductory session with the Postgraduate Tutor. Tuesday I head to Birmingham, to the ICC, for a two-day residential school with M3C that promises to be extremely exhausting and SO MUCH fun! Thursday I’m back at Leicester, for more training and a school social, then Friday for yet more training and New History Lab (expect to hear more about the fantastic Lab over the next few years). The following Wednesday sees the Graduate School Induction, and then the week after, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities Induction.
And then the project begins. I’ll have my first formal supervisory meeting, probably with all three of my supervisors, so we’re all on the same page, marching to the same drum, etc. (I’m thinking of bringing cake. 🙂 You can’t go wrong with a bit of cake, can you?). I expect to be told to go away, work on research questions, construct a timeline, begin a lit review, think about what training I need. Then report back in a month with where I am. It’s scary because it’s totally dependent on me to drive it. You have to have self-discipline in spades to do this, and it’s something that I’m going to have to learn to do (I’m not, I freely admit, very good at self-discipline. I am, on the other hand, TOTALLY excellent at procrastination). But I do have some powerful motivators for doing this and I think they’ll see me through. Help me to sit down at my desk and keep bashing at my keyboard even when it’s the absolute last thing I feel like doing.
I’m not sure, at this point, what form the blog will take over the next few months. I want to try to keep writing here; not just to share my thoughts on what I’m reading/discovering, but also to keep a track of my progress. That sort of reflective thinking, understanding where you’ve come from as well as where you’ve got to go, and where you are now, is crucial, I think, in keeping mentally healthy. (Of course, there’s more to keeping mentally healthy than just this but hey, this PhD ain’t about mental health…!) I do know one other thing though.
It’s going to be a hell of a ride. 🙂