A figure entering a maze with a 'PhD' sign at the entrance

Starting your PhD and surviving the journey

Congratulations! You are about to start on a challenging and rewarding PhD journey at the University of York.

A little about myself before I jump into the fascinating details of this journey. My name is Estelia Bórquez Sánchez, and I am from Chile (South America). In August last year, I was awarded my PhD degree in education (Science Education) from the University of York. Now, I am an associate researcher at the UYSEG and working as the Thrive and Survive Series Coordinator.

In these challenging times, you may be wondering how you can not only survive, but also thrive in your PhD. Maybe you’re an international student and you’re worried about fitting in, or perhaps you want some help dealing with Imposter Syndrome. What about if your studies aren’t going as planned?  I can assure you that these feelings are all entirely normal as part of the PhD, and the University of York has many resources and a network to support you. For example, the Research Excellence Training Team (RETT) run a range of training sessions, all available on SkillsForge. Support is also available from the Student HubStudent support and adviceSupport, wellbeing and HealthNightline and many others. As part of the RETT programme, I run sessions as part of the ‘How to Thrive and Survive in your PhD’ initiative.

Starting your PhD may be an exciting and exhausting process, especially if you are moving to a new city/country. When beginning my PhD, I found plenty of information on what to expect within the first months through the website at the University of York. The Wentworth College provided me with many links to understand the culture and expectations of this city. I can tell you that the start of your PhD can be a great experience, and if you need some help, please get in touch with your college or PhD supervisor who I am sure will be happy to help you get orientated. 

Today, I would like to share with you two aspects that could help every PhD student to understand a little bit more about the elements involved in this journey. 

  • Time management: Keeping a schedule and getting everything done.

From my personal experience, time management is key to success during this journey because it involves managing yourself. This means administrating your own time, including supervision meetings, booking slots in the library, being part of societies, personal activities and keeping your energy levels up. This is a wonderful benefit to PhD study because you can have a long lunch to see your friends, or if you do work a weekend, you can have some time off in the week. In terms of working hours, it is helpful for you to handle a plan that considers your well-being, which involves being flexible to changing workloads or doing other activities. I recommend you go to the University of York website and check the support network available for you; perhaps, the societies and union of students (YUSU) events would be a significant point to start this journey, for example, the Effective Time Management.

  • Meeting your Supervisor and looking to the future: It may be challenging to do this, but believe me, time flies.

You may have made notes of what you hope to achieve during your PhD journey and maybe have even been thinking about your future after you complete your PhD. While it is also important to live in the present and enjoy your time as a research student, you should still look ahead because this gives the motivation that helps you to get things off on the right foot.    

During the PhD journey, I would describe your Supervisor as the most important person (after yourself!). Your supervisors are a source of advice, guidance, inspiration and information, who will ultimately influence your project’s direction. The first meeting with your supervisors is very important, as it will set you up for the work you will do over the next few years. There are a few easy things you can do to prepare for this meeting: write some notes and ideas about your research topic; add recent references; include some questions that you can discuss with your Supervisor and use that to explore new research topics. Believe me; you will learn a lot about doing research from chatting with your supervisor!     

Overall, the first year of your PhD can be challenging but also exciting. If you immerse yourself into postgraduate life, you will get a head start with your work. However, it is essential to balance social, active and educational lifestyle choices because sometimes you may feel overwhelmed, which is perfectly normal!     

I would like to encourage you to join me at the “Thrive and Survive your PhD” sessions; Next coming on Tuesday 12 October 2021. We will talk about starting your PhD and surviving the journey. All details are on the University of York website or contact me if you have any queries: pgr-thriveandsurvive@york.ac.uk  

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