Survival Guide to starting your PhD

Survival Guide to starting your PhD

Post by Neeshé Khan (2018 Cohort)

I recently came back to university – almost ten years after I graduated. I decided to do a PhD. My jobs have been at prestigious companies with dynamic and intense environments, allowing me to be empowered and thrive at what I do. I decided to let go of lucrative pay and forge something for myself. I set out seeing the PhD as a stepping stone to get me to where I want to be. Of course, I didn’t expect this experience to be a breeze. I’m still fairly new, having just entered my second semester, but here are my top survival tips that might help you going through something similar.

  1. Manage your money – If you come from a working life, salary and money is more of a constant. Cycles that keep replenishing themselves, especially if you’re good at managing it. I am fortunate to get a stipend in the UK but it it’s a drastic difference to my usual monthly pay checks. It’s more important now than ever to stay on top of your finances as this might end up being a long journey if you decide to see if through to the end.
  2. Rely on your support networks – I have been doing this, a. lot. I ended up relocating and this means that I’ve ended up relying a lot more on my existing support networks for emotional support. Feel secure enough to say what you’re feeling without having to put on a brave face. A lot of insights can come out of frank, candid discussions and you might be surprised by some useful nuggets of advise that come your way.
  3. Forge new relationships – go out with your cohort! Life is extremely hectic in a new city, a new environment and doing new things all at once, I know. But don’t use that as an excuse to bail out of socials. It’s really helped me to form close relationships with some of my peers (many of whom are much younger) and even when talking doesn’t help (which for me does not work btw!), just having someone beside you, or having a short conversation with someone who’s company you enjoy or a lecturer, can go a long way to brighten your day and raise your sprit.
  4. Structure your days – I recently had a coaching session with a brilliant person and discovered that some of the source of my feelings came from a lack of structure during my evenings. While I’m good at structuring my day and prioritising, thanks to my work experience, I’ve been rather bad at structuring my evenings. I hadn’t noticed this at all. While it’s okay to put in a little extra as your learning the ropes, it’s also important to have structured evening and to keep yourself engaged in activities you did as part of your working life. So, go to the gym, go out for a meal (a table of one is just fine by me!), go to the theatre or have a karaoke night. But do something that keeps that structure for you.
  5. Reflect, re-evaluate and hang in there – This is a big one. I am quite introspective but it’s important to do little mental checks to see if your project is going in the direction (vaguely at least) that you set out when starting out with the PhD. Your dream can have different versions, sure, but the dream should still be there. If things are aligned, try to hang in there. Everything can seem hard at first but it gets easier.

I broke away from my usual topic pieces but I hope this is useful if anyone is going through something similar, within academia or not. It’s also good for me to have this to reflect back on in a few month’s time.