Reflections from a Final Year PhD Student

The trigger for this month’s blog was an email exchange and a song. The email exchange was with the Worcester Research School about using my conference poster for their recent Open Day. It got me thinking (cringing) about how much my PhD had evolved since September 2016. Then, the next morning I heard this song on Radio One Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. Again, it got me thinking and reflecting.

I am in the final year of a full time PhD and a number of times I have bought into the clichés that it is a journey or roller coaster etc. But, actually, what is becoming more accurate is that it is simply development. In terms of developing a research project and developing yourself. I have spoken quite a few times in this blog about peaks or troughs. So, I wanted to go a few steps further and reflect as a final year PhD student.

Social Reflections

Build in time buffers, about 15% of the year (calendar or academic), for unforeseen circumstances. For example, one off extra projects, a strike, fatigue, mental/physical health, snow or family bereavements. It seems an obvious point but life outside of a PhD can (and should) get in the way.

A classic truism is that you become isolated during your PhD, maybe, but it is very much intensified in the moments when things go wrong or things get in the way. I am really grateful for having such a good support network, my thesis acknowledgements page will be full!

Political Reflections

Learn to say thank you and show appreciation, genuinely and frequently. I have met a number of people, communities and organisations during my PhD; and I have developed a knack for networking. Apparently that is a desirable asset for an academic, however, in my final year I have developed an awareness that networking is futile if you do not thank or demonstrate appreciation.

For example, in my first year I attended events (often for free as a PhD researcher) but did not offer anything in return, now in my final year I email the event organiser to see how I can contribute or show appreciation. So far, I have written blogs, tweeted, taken photos or offered feedback. All small and token, but, build rapport and demonstrate genuine gratitude.

Economic Reflections

Invest in spaces to think and write. I now have note books, post-it notes, plain, lined, large and small pieces of paper in most areas of my life. For example, I think well when I drive so there is a stack of post-it notes in my glove box!

It is easy to over complicate or regulate the spaces that you need to think or write in. For the first couple of months of my PhD I lingered on using my laptop, the library and being at a desk; whereas now I have developed the ability to know when I need to be at a desk or actually down by a canal with a note pad and pen. Less about the word count and more about the spaces that count.

Cultural Reflections

I have let go of thinking a PhD will make me more intellectual. In my opinion it has done the opposite. I now know, that I know nothing! But, that is fine.

What develops me as an academic is my ability to hone my intellect into an achievable research project, which can benefit a variety of communities. On a day to day basis that could be in the form of: writing up a thesis chapter or practicing using Google Docs or having a Twitter chat. By the end of my PhD I will, hopefully, be a more capable individual that can contribute to communities through research. Not a know-it-all!

Concluding Reflection

Briefly, this is a reflection of my experiences and development. I am a: full time, funded, English (Northern), extroverted, single, millennial, able bodied and female (amongst other identifying features) PhD student; therefore, other PhD’ers will have completely different reflections. We are all different, but, hopefully what I have shared is relatable.

Personal Future Milestones

I want to continue to develop and my short term milestones are:

Social – to further develop resilience for when things go wrong and I go into buffer time;

Political – to further develop the ability to show appreciation and hope that post PhD that will cultivate an employment opportunity (ideally a post-doc);

Economic – to further develop my thinking/writing spaces so that I have full draft of my thesis by October 2018;

Cultural – to further develop the diversity of my skills and continue to listen and be challenged by those around me.

It is good to reflect, but I will not linger. Back to the thesis and doing.




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