By Bethan Mitchell
Being a PhD student is a unique experience. I am a mature student with 25+ years’ work under my belt, and doing a PhD is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. One thing I learned as I went along was that you don’t do a PhD on your own. You may think you do, because there is a lot of writing and thinking involved, but there are all kinds of people and things that assemble to create what we call ‘doctoral research’.
During the write-up stage, I found myself phoning my parents and my sister daily, sometimes more than once a day. The emotional support and encouragement they gave, as well as advice about holding it together, were invaluable. Supervisors are particularly important all the way through the PhD, and I struck gold with the supervisors I worked with. I learned how to accept feedback and criticism as a resource to help me develop.
Another great source of inspiration is the PhD community. I feel very lucky to have worked alongside such brilliant, capable students, to support and be supported. It is easy to feel intimidated when you are surrounded by clever people who all seem to be getting on with it. I discovered that my fellow students had similar insecurities to me, and that it was normal to go through highs and lows. I found it particularly valuable to talk to students who were working with the same theory as me, and we set up a reading group together. Students also set up writing groups where we would write together and discuss writing. These sessions helped enormously. I also appreciated advice from students who were at, or had gone through, particular stages in the PhD, such as data collection, analysis, and writing up.
As well as people, resources such as space and IT facilities are hugely important. I found different spaces to write and think, and also to be around other students. Attending seminars and events became a way of engaging in scholarly conversation which helped to develop my writing. Listening to how other students articulate their research, reading drafts of each other’s work, and listening to presentations at conferences, were all activities that contributed to my academic development.
Now that I know how valuable it is to interact with other students, I would encourage students to find ways of coming together. I am glad to have had the experience of a PGR Community Intern to contribute to the development of the PGR community. This includes holding and organising events in the PGR Zone, such as the PhD Drop-in Clinics, for former students to share their experiences. The PGR Zone is a space dedicated to PGR students, a space where students can meet, hold events, write, read and talk together. The PGR Community Interns have worked towards creating physical and conceptual spaces such as the PGR Zone, social media and an on-line magazine, to promote a sense of unity within the PGR community.