“What have you been upto recently?”

“Oh, actually I’m doing a PhD, I’m only about a month in though…”

This is a conversation I’ve been having a lot recently. When you tell the outside world that you’ve started a PhD, they tend to respond in one of two ways:

  1. “Will you be the person on an aeroplane who stands up when they ask if there’s a doctor on board?”
  2. Think you’re the ultimate overlord of universities, Jeremy Paxman HIMSELF.

What I’ve actually realised is that, when you get inside the bubble, you feel a bit like a labrador trying to do a cryptic crossword. You aren’t sure what’s going on, you need to learn a whole new language and you aren’t sure that you know how to hold a pen. But another thing that I’ve realised is that that seems to be the way we should be feeling. Understanding exactly what you’re doing is playing it safe, and doing a PhD is not meant to be safe.

After a summer of extremely short subject overviews (“art” etc) when trying not to bore someone who asks what your PhD is in, our autumn as new PGRs has involved a lot of rebuilding our previous certainties into different shapes, the blue prints to cobble a very personal yellow brick road for the next 3-7 years.

A bit like Dorothy, even though we have been swept out of our comfort zone, we are definitely not facing the journey alone. In fact, we’re spoilt by how many communities we have suddenly been welcomed into. Alongside weekly PG Cert sessions in a cohort of new ADM starters, our activities are surrounded by peers within our assigned school in office spaces and seminars, attendees of PGR studio workshops, research clusters and mentoring partnerships.

Now located in the middle of this enormous, extraordinary venn diagram, I think I can speak for all new PGRs in emulating Dr Tim Wall: we’ve got our pens and blank paper ready, here’s hoping it goes well!


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