Tips for first-year PhDs

Now that I am almost three weeks into this adventure, I've met my supervisor, made friends in college and in the department and elsewhere, I have received some advice from others who have more experience doing a Humanities PhD. All of them have helped me look at my open schedule and the PhD process differently, and I suspect that these tips will be very valuable to me as I trudge ahead.

I have always wondered what it's like to be a PhD researcher -- what is expected of me, what can I do to get the most out of it, what challenges should I be prepared for, what perks should I not miss out on, and basically how will it change my life? Maybe you've been thinking about these things, too, so here's what I've heard so far:

From my supervisor:

1. Spend the first two months or so of the PhD exploring your topic. Be open to all the possible ways of examining your topic, and map out what sources are available.
2. Enjoy your experience.


Sometimes I get lost.

From a 2nd year Middle Eastern Studies PhD student:

3. Try to do a bit of everything everyday. In any research area/phase that requires intensive and extensive reading, it's easy to lose yourself in one book or subtopic, and emerge from the rabbit hole 2 or three weeks after that. And then you'll realise how out of touch you've become with the other aspects of your research, that you're now 3 weeks closer to the first year assessment deadline but have not examined the other subtopics/authors yet, and it'll be more difficult to shift your focus quickly.

This is the work routine that worked for him (he didn't realise this until he was several months into his PhD): Chunk down your morning into sessions where you do, say, some language work, and then some essential reading of Egyptian history, and after that a reading of your primary sources. So by lunch time, you'll see that you've covered quite a lot, which is very satisfying and encouraging. After lunch break, you can then concentrate on one thing that you've chosen for the day. Repeat. After a few weeks, you should have (a) decided whether this works for you or not -- and tweak or change your rhythm as needed, and (b) have covered quite a bit of ground on your initial research, inshaAllah.

The Free School Lane Site. This reminds me of UCL.

One of my classmates in Hebrew class is a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics, who did his PhD in Cambridge about ten years back, experienced a difficult PhD -- he didn't get much support from his supervisor, it took him 5 years -- but he made it and became a specialist in that area! Here was his advice:

4. Have good friends. A few good ones is better than many not-so-close ones. Also important, know your friends' weaknesses, so you don't completely give in to their ways, and also so that you can help them where they need a friend's advice and support.

5. Ask for advice from people, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to their perspectives, but you don't have to act on their advice if it doesn't suit you.

6. Be really curious. Open up your views, don't judge the ideas (related to your research), just be curious and get as much input as you can. Later you decide what's best for you and your study.

7. Do one thing that's different from your PhD. It could be completely unrelated to your study, it could be slightly related, but go out and be involved in something other than your research. These should all help you consider your research topic with fresh eyes, and in a broader view. Most importantly, it takes you a step back from your research, and we all know that things look differently from afar.

 Trumpington Street

I haven't found my reading-and-note-taking rhythm yet, nor my perfect desk/reading spot, or a (Cambridge-based) circle of friends that really click with me/kindred souls for keeps, but I will find them inshaAllah. 

اللهم بارك لنا في أوقاتا، آمين

0 comments :: Tips for first-year PhDs

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tips for first-year PhDs

Now that I am almost three weeks into this adventure, I've met my supervisor, made friends in college and in the department and elsewhere, I have received some advice from others who have more experience doing a Humanities PhD. All of them have helped me look at my open schedule and the PhD process differently, and I suspect that these tips will be very valuable to me as I trudge ahead.

I have always wondered what it's like to be a PhD researcher -- what is expected of me, what can I do to get the most out of it, what challenges should I be prepared for, what perks should I not miss out on, and basically how will it change my life? Maybe you've been thinking about these things, too, so here's what I've heard so far:

From my supervisor:

1. Spend the first two months or so of the PhD exploring your topic. Be open to all the possible ways of examining your topic, and map out what sources are available.
2. Enjoy your experience.


Sometimes I get lost.

From a 2nd year Middle Eastern Studies PhD student:

3. Try to do a bit of everything everyday. In any research area/phase that requires intensive and extensive reading, it's easy to lose yourself in one book or subtopic, and emerge from the rabbit hole 2 or three weeks after that. And then you'll realise how out of touch you've become with the other aspects of your research, that you're now 3 weeks closer to the first year assessment deadline but have not examined the other subtopics/authors yet, and it'll be more difficult to shift your focus quickly.

This is the work routine that worked for him (he didn't realise this until he was several months into his PhD): Chunk down your morning into sessions where you do, say, some language work, and then some essential reading of Egyptian history, and after that a reading of your primary sources. So by lunch time, you'll see that you've covered quite a lot, which is very satisfying and encouraging. After lunch break, you can then concentrate on one thing that you've chosen for the day. Repeat. After a few weeks, you should have (a) decided whether this works for you or not -- and tweak or change your rhythm as needed, and (b) have covered quite a bit of ground on your initial research, inshaAllah.

The Free School Lane Site. This reminds me of UCL.

One of my classmates in Hebrew class is a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics, who did his PhD in Cambridge about ten years back, experienced a difficult PhD -- he didn't get much support from his supervisor, it took him 5 years -- but he made it and became a specialist in that area! Here was his advice:

4. Have good friends. A few good ones is better than many not-so-close ones. Also important, know your friends' weaknesses, so you don't completely give in to their ways, and also so that you can help them where they need a friend's advice and support.

5. Ask for advice from people, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to their perspectives, but you don't have to act on their advice if it doesn't suit you.

6. Be really curious. Open up your views, don't judge the ideas (related to your research), just be curious and get as much input as you can. Later you decide what's best for you and your study.

7. Do one thing that's different from your PhD. It could be completely unrelated to your study, it could be slightly related, but go out and be involved in something other than your research. These should all help you consider your research topic with fresh eyes, and in a broader view. Most importantly, it takes you a step back from your research, and we all know that things look differently from afar.

 Trumpington Street

I haven't found my reading-and-note-taking rhythm yet, nor my perfect desk/reading spot, or a (Cambridge-based) circle of friends that really click with me/kindred souls for keeps, but I will find them inshaAllah. 

اللهم بارك لنا في أوقاتا، آمين

No comments: