PhD Induction: Last Day

Day five of PhD induction week, the last day, was a pretty good day. We had a fantastic – and well attended – talk from one of the school’s professors on ‘getting an article published’. The professor explained some really useful things such as like why we have two standards of Open Access publishing, the differences between them, and what it means for us as would-be publishers. It’s made me realise how fortunate I was with the editor of the journal that pubished my first article, how patient he was with me (and I still got two free print copies of the journal, which, according to the talk yesterday, just doesn’t happen any more). I think it helped a great deal that the professor themselves was the editor of a journal so was able to explain things from an editor’s perspective, and also explain the reasons for some of the time lag between submission and getting an answer from the journal (acceptance, rejection, etc) and what’s going on behind the scenes that we just don’t see – and how long we should be leaving it before emailing said editor for news. And, too, there was advice on rejections, how to handle them, the admission that everyone gets rejected, and that you must not take it personally – even the professor gets rejected every once in a while! It was a great talk and what I really loved was the professor’s enthusiasm for their subject. They’re clearly a person that still loves their job, their history, and its so good to see people at the top who don’t have that world-weary, institutionally-battered cynicism. I don’t know about anyone else but it gives me hope for the future.

The second event of the day was an introduction to library services. Lots of info about what our library has within its glass walls, the special collections, how to use the library search, all that kind of thing. You might think, as a long-term Leicester resident, that I’d have skipped this session. Not a bit of it! A lot of what was said I knew (and could chip in useful info) but at the University of Leicester, Library Services are continually working to improve and develop the services they offer and its important to keep on top of these changes.

The third event was the long-awaited New History Lab! The first session of the semester is always well attended as it’s officially part of induction week and people show up to find out what it’s all about. Put simply; it’s a history postgrad community run by postgrads, involves tea and cake and a seminar and then they all troop off to the pub. I say ‘they’ cos I usually have to scarper to collect my partner from the station at just that point, unfortunately, but hopefully one day I’ll be able to go to the pub with them! The chair of NHL presented a short briefing on ‘ten things we wish we’d known when we started our postgrad courses’, with some real nuggets of information. Even things like ‘use social media – with caution’ [ahem!], and that is absolutely correct, of course. I do remember the same talk being presented two years ago when I started my MA and looking back, I did take the tips onboard, perhaps subconsciously, because I did find them useful over the years – and I’m sure I will continue to remember them in future. Many of them are very commonsense ones, no-brainers, almost, but if you ARE completely new to an institution or to postgrad study it is so very easy to miss things, especially in a week like this when so much information is thrown at you. We had a fun quiz after. I’m sad to say I didn’t get the much coveted prize (chocolate!). Maybe next year! Many of the attendees were existing postgrads of one kind or another, so not everyone was new and it was a really good mix of old lags and newcomers to the university. I’m looking forward to the next!

Overview of the week and other thoughts:

I fully admit, I’m actually typing this the following morning. Although I wanted to blog this last night, my brain absolutely refused to work any more last night and I was asleep within 30 seconds of my head hitting the pillow. PhD Induction week does take a great deal out of you – many of my fellow inductees were looking tired yesterday and I expect many of us have woken up this morning feeling a bit better for the long rest. For me, because my particular mode of communication involves lip-reading and watching signs, this week has been particularly exhausting. That’s inevitable, though, and cannot be avoided (and also unique to a deaf PhD student. There are, sadly, far too few of us around).

I think that although this week is critical for starting a course of study well, and finding out lots of really essential information, it is also important that people going through it shouldn’t neglect their health, to start as they mean to go on. During a week like this it’s so easy to just grab food on the go, to do what has to be done to get through the week. And for one week, that might be okay for some. For me, it’s not been good. I’m also a diabetic and I test my blood sugar every morning when I get up. This morning’s figure was rather bad, as it has been almost every day… actually. No. EVERY day this week. The impact of too many coffees with sugar (I have coffee without sugar at home, when I can make it mild enough to suit, but strong cafe coffee, I have to have with sugar, its too bitter otherwise), too many bad choices of meals, too many temptations (the pudding on Tuesday night – only a saint could have said no to that, and I’m no saint!), and too many nights of getting home exhausted and just turning to ready meals or takeout just to get some food in me before collapsing into bed. This morning I feel physically awful – almost hungover. A week’s neglect of my health is really showing and I want to march up to the nearest supermarket and shop for healthy veg and chicken and make some tom yam gai tonight (In fact, I think I will. that stuff is nectar, and you can feel it doing your body good with every slurp). Where the Masters is – for most people – a fast sprint throughout the year, getting one’s head down and pummelling through, the PhD is a marathon, and as a result, more care is absolutely necessary. Care of physical health, mental health is absolutely critical, and I think any PhD student who doesn’t care for themselves will soon regret it.

Looking back at this week, and taking it as a whole, it’s a very busy week and there is an enormous amount of information to take in. If I had to give tips to anyone else going through a PhD induction week, it’d be these:

  1. Many of the presentations are available to download in various places and I would say to anyone else going through an induction week like this – DO download those because it’s useful to have them on hand, particularly presentations like the library one which is just jampacked full of links that you may well be wanting in, say, 8 months or 2 years down the line.
  2. I’d also say do talk to people during induction week. Two years ago, I didn’t do that so much and I know I regretted that, and had to work hard to make up for it in the two years that followed. This time around I’ve tried hard to not repeat the mistake of two years ago.
  3. Make notes. Copious notes. Things like important dates, and then go put them in your diary. They should be available elsewhere, especially if they’re dates like when you have to finish your probationary review, but why struggle to look them up if you don’t have to? Along the same lines, if there are handouts, leaflets of any kind, make sure you get copies and read them later.
  4. Most places have a student handbook of some kind, and these often point to the relevant university senate regulations that dictate the rules around your PhD. I would strongly recommend reading both, so you know what’s what. Knowledge is strength.
  5. As per the previous paragraph, take good physical and mental care of yourself – start that this week and continue throughout your course of study.

PhD induction isn’t completely over. Induction week may be, but there are two more events. The Graduate School at Leicester is running a group, en-masse induction on Wednesday of all their graduate students, regardless of disciplinary affiliation, with lots of networking and information. The following week, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities is running their induction. I will blog both, just so I’ve got the set! (I’m a collector, at heart). But as of Monday, the hard work begins. We have, in theory, a class on Monday on Research Design and Practice. In reality, I was told about this class at lunchtime on Friday, which sadly, is not enough time to organise an interpreter, so I will be emailing the professor to excuse myself. Attending would be a waste of my time, and theirs, as I would not be able to usefully contribute. Instead, I shall be home, following up on many things from this week, downloading forms and powerpoints, printing things and sorting out admin. I’ll also be preparing for my first supervisory meeting which is on Tuesday! I freely admit I’m nervous but also excited. It marks, for me, anyway, the first big step of my PhD. I think I know what I want to do, I have a sort of an idea for a plan for the next few months but obviously, they will have opinions on that so it will probably change. One of the things you’re told, something that is emphasised, actually, at this stage of the PhD is that it’s your responsibility to take charge of the supervisions. It’s your PhD after all. Your supervisors aren’t there to tell you what to do. They start you off, sure, they give you (either directly, or by telling you where to get them) the tools that you’ll be using for the PhD, and will suggest things that they can see you’ve missed, but … ultimately, its YOUR research project. It’s your responsibility to manage the meetings, to set the tone of them, to drive them forward, to set future meetings, to take notes. So Monday I shall also be pulling together an agenda, and making some cookies to take with me. I may well be making a rod for my own back with that one, but I love baking (Yes, I’m a GBBO fan!) and I think there are few things that make something start well than food that makes people smile. Is there anyone out there that actually doesn’t like some form of a cookie or biscuit?

So. a lot to do. This is where we move from passively listening to actively engaging with our own work and ideas. And after a week of preparing, of listening, of talking with people… I’m ready to get going. Cannot wait, actually! This has  been such a long time in coming and it’s finally here!


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