Research Student Life: Connected or Isolated?

I have regularly bemoaned that when I tell people I am doing a PhD they immediately jump to a number of conclusions:

It is one year…

I attend lectures daily…

The degree I get at the end is a mere extension of an undergraduate degree…

These misconceptions are not irritating but contribute to the thought process behind my post this month.


Is the modern day duty of a PhD student to be connected? Offer real time updates of their research? Spread their network, building an academic and professional profile? 


Is the modern day duty of a PhD student to fend off the pressures of being connected; and instead stay moderately isolated so that they can concentrate and finish their thesis?

For me it is neither one nor the other. At certain points I need to be out in the world being professional and a social butterfly. However, there are other moments where I need no human contact, to be surrounded by books, no emails and try to write.

In the past 13 months of guidance from the University of Worcester they have helped me navigate and up skill on how to connect or isolate where necessary. This has culminated in two direct ways:

  1. This year I have taken on the role of Chairperson of the Research Student Society (inductionpackoct2016_rss). At Worcester there are around 150 research students, and the role of the society is to cultivate a community. Taking charge this year has really pushed me to consider the varying circumstances, needs and challenges of research students. I feel much more empathetic to the community now; and have moved beyond reducing all research students to one particular type.
  2. Last week I tried to help out one of my favourite people at Worcester, Su Fagg, who is a pillar of the research student community and resource. Su, the research support librarian, has both in development programme sessions and personal conversations advocated ways for research students to be connected. I helped her out by producing my Top 3 tips for Staying Connected (su_top-tips-for-staying-connected) which was distributed to the new cohort of research students at Worcester. But, made more an impact on me because having sifted through many platforms and strategies, I have actually found some good mechanisms to stay connected and be isolated where necessary!

The take-a-ways from this blog post for different types of readers are:

  • Non-research students– PhD’s full time take around 3/4 years, it is a research project that intends to test research skills not simply make you an expert in a field. Although an extension of an undergraduate degree, I see it more as an academic apprenticeship to become competent with the world of research and find your place.
  • Research students– I am intrigued to hear of other opinions on the conundrum of staying connected vs. being isolated. Please get in contact with your experiences and any pressures or methods from your institutes and/or fields.
  • Academic staff– research students are different, and the research landscape is rapidly changing. Please keep updating your experiences with other factors, such as, technology, time and money. Otherwise there is a risk the current research student will just not be able to relate to your advice. Su is a first rate example of how to keep up to date and pushing students to consider their roles and resources available.



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