The following words are my musings on the last three years of being a PGR. My first thought is just how quickly this time passes. I thought three years was a long time and how easy it would be to undertake this research well within the time. However, stuff, general life-stuff gets in the way as it generally has a habit of doing which slows progress and hinders plans. Also, I have worked with people during my research which has also added a lot of delays and unknowns to the project. I guess the thing I would say is to plan well ahead and allow plenty of time to do things. I am the least patient person in the world (probably anyway) and when I think of something, I want it done straight away. While I feel this is an excellent approach in general as it gets things done, when you are working with other institutions and people, it doesn’t always work.
When I started at MIRIAD, it was a great step into the unknown for me. I had been out of academia for nearly twenty years and getting back into the system was really quite hard. I met some great and helpful people along the way and I found it very useful to mix with students who weren’t in my year as it gave me an opportunity to ask what was to come and how they’d dealt with things.
When I started, I met Dr Lewis Sykes who helped me with my own academic website. Within this was a monthly journal blog. This is something I have religiously written without fail. The approach with this was total stream of conscious thought in three catagories (inputs, critical reflection and outputs) and I decided not to read it through before being published. It was a way of allowing me to reflect on what I had achieved (or not) at the end of each month. It was an act of monthly closure and was for intended as a therapeutic writing to help with summaryising to myself where I was. While it was published and others probably read it too, it was always intended as an aid to me. I know the Graduate School were interested in it and if anyone found it useful, then that is great too. When I first started, I would have loved to read honest thoughts that weren’t too academic and deep about what was expected of a new student and the trials and tribulations that followed.
While I was quite resistant at first and looking back I was wrong, your supervisors do know best and want you to be the best too. While they may not know your subject (at first anyway), they know how to research and write and how to present, so listen to what they say. The other two pieces of advice are to write things as you go. This sounds obvious, but this saves a lot of time and worry at the end! The final thing is to try and speak at conferences. This was a massve thing for me as thought terrified me, but I knew this was something I had to do to grow as a researcher in my field and as a person. I have now done about six lectutres, two of which were fully-funded (one in the USA) key-note lectures and they were a wonderful experience in terms of growth. I remember after finishing my first lecture, I thought; If I can do this, I can do anything!
Finally, the RD1 and RD2 are a great opportunity in finding where you are and what you’ve done. At the time, I thought the RD1 was a terrible bureaucratic waste of my time, but it isn’t, it allows you to refine what you are doing and the act of trying to write this in about 1,000 words is a real challenge, but is actually pretty cathartic. The lessons I learnt from not doing too well with RD1 were highly-valuable for RD2 which I sailed through.
In summary, relax, try and enjoy what you are doing and think how fortunate you are to be the person doing this research. The best thing I heard when I started was said by Dr Sam Collings; “The reason you can’t find the book with all the answers to your research question is because you haven’t written it yet!”. Excellent.
Richard Halliday – www.richardhalliday.co.uk