A Week in the Life of a Postgraduate Research Student

My name is Alice and I’m a postgraduate research student studying for a PhD with the Department of English and Related Literature and the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies. There are a lot of myths about what it’s like to be a PhD student, but what does a week in the life of a doctoral researcher really look like?

Monday

After some slight procrastination, I ease into my week with some admin tasks. I run my department’s social media and so Monday starts with a mug of coffee and checking Twitter for notifications. There’s always a lot going on in the English department so there’s plenty to tweet about! I share some great articles by members of the department and a fascinating thread on dissertation ideas from York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives before heading into King’s Manor in town.

York Minster

After taking the scenic route past York Minster, I reach my desk in the Centre for Eighteenth Century-Studies postgraduate workroom. I spend the rest of the morning commissioning blog posts from researchers around Europe for a project I’m working on with a national organisation in my subject area.

After lunch, I use the library’s e-resources to research satirical poems in eighteenth-century periodicals until 4.30 when I head off to a workshop for MA and PhD students that’s being run by a visiting speaker. The workshop is a nice opportunity to catch up with other postgraduates and have some really great discussions.

Tuesday

Today it’s back to King’s Manor for a serious day of editing, as I have a Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP) meeting coming up. TAP meetings happen twice a year and involve meeting with someone in your field who isn’t your supervisor to discuss your work so far. As a first-year PhD student this will be my first one, so I’m quite nervous but it’ll be really useful to get another perspective on my project and, as I edit, it’s exciting to see my first chapter coming together! It’s not all work though. After a couple of hours of writing it’s definitely time for a break and some food so some of my friends and I decide to go on a mission to find pancakes.

Putting together a thesis chapter

It’s back to editing after lunch, but I break up my work by chatting with the other PhD students and bouncing ideas off them. There are plenty of silent spaces to study at York but also areas, like this one, which are a little more relaxed, which means there’s a strong sense of community among research students.

Finally, it’s time for this week’s Research Seminar. Every fortnight the Centre for Eighteenth-Century studies invites a visiting speaker to give a talk to staff and students. The talk is really interesting, and it’s great to think about something other than my own research for a bit. After the talk, there’s a wine reception and I hang around for a while chatting with students, staff and the speaker, before hunger gets the better of me and I head home for dinner.

Wednesday

Wednesdays start bright and early on campus for me this term because I’m shadowing an undergraduate module on Romantic Period Literature as part of my teaching training. This involves sitting in on seminars to observe the lecturer and getting some first-hand teaching experience. After four years of attending classes as a student, it’s eye-opening to look at a seminar from the perspective of the lecturer.

As the final part of my shadowing experience, I’ll be teaching next week’s class, so I make extra-detailed notes for inspiration. I’m looking forward to running my own seminar and even though the prospect of leading a whole class is a bit daunting, I feel shadowing has prepared me well. And how often do you get the opportunity to talk about your favourite subject for two hours? After a debrief with the lecturer and some words of encouragement for next week, I head over to the library café where I meet a friend for lunch and some of the library’s ridiculously good cake.

At work at the Writing Centre

Then it’s time for coffee and catching up with emails before my shift at the Writing Centre starts. As a writing tutor, I help students from all over the University with all aspects of essay writing, from how to structure a paper to how to build a strong argument.

I’m running drop-in appointments today, and it’s really rewarding when I can send a student away feeling confident in their writing.

Thursday

The view from my bedroom desk

This morning is all about editing again and, after a day away from my desk yesterday, I come back to my work refreshed. I go through my supervisor’s comments on my earlier drafts, making sure I’ve taken them on board. It’s always helpful to get such detailed feedback, and I feel confident about how to improve the chapter for our next meeting.

After lunch I do a final proofread and then send off my work before moving on to work on the European blog project. I’m working at home today so I can stick on a playlist and de-stress a bit while I play around with WordPress and draft some copy to publicise the project.

At 5pm my housemate comes home and we convene in the living room to work on a proposal we’re writing to run a children’s activity at York’s Festival of Ideas Family Fun Day in the summer.

Friday

Baking

With my first seminar nearing, I spend the morning lesson planning. I have a lot of freedom regarding how I teach the material and I end up having a lot of fun brainstorming activities and revisiting my favourite texts. Once I’ve drafted my lesson plan and updated my diary with everything I need to do next week I walk over to the Writing Centre for my second shift of the week.

Then it’s time for some well-earned relaxation in the form of baking! I’m trying my hand at cinnamon rolls, which I’ve never made before and I think they turn out ok. My friends who come over to help eat them think so at least!

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Alice

Hi, I'm Alice and I'm a first year PhD student in the department of English and Related Literature, researching speech and science in 18th and 19th century literature. When I'm not reading, I enjoy swimming, baking and spending far too long watching Netflix!

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