So after around 7 months of what felt like constant rejections I finally managed to secure my second PhD interview, this time at Swansea University, having previously missed out after interviewing at Cardiff. Despite being desperate to stay in Scotland and applying to universities all over the UK, South Wales seemed to see something in me that other placed didn’t! I almost didn’t even apply for the position as it came with a rather tempting / terrifying commitment – 2 years of the PhD would be spent in Houston, Texas. Nevertheless I interviewed, waited an incredibly nerve-wracking five days and found out that I was successful – in McDonalds of all places. Then came the daunting moment of signing the next 3.5 years of my life away, coming to terms with the fact I’ll be living in America for 2 years, and relocating again to a brand new city.
I am now one month into starting my studentship, and here are a few things I wish I would have known beforehand:
- It’s lonely – I’m living with 3 other girls, and sharing an office with around 10 others, yet the lack of interaction you usually have on a university course is noticeable immediately.
- You will have no idea what you’re doing – you’ve graduated, in my case twice, so you think you have a good understanding of your chosen field. Nope. You will wander around not having a clue where you should be or what you should be doing – and no one will be there to check up on you.
- You will have a lot more free time – this was a very strange concept to me as I expected to be reading research papers 24/7 but after having a part time job for the past 10 years I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fill my evenings.
- You’ll have money – if, like me, you go straight through the education system surviving on student loans and tips, your first stipend payment will be the best feeling. Yes, I may have blown mine in a week making the most of freshers week discounts but knowing it will be topped up again next month is still a novelty. Someone is paying me to work towards my dream career.
- Nights out become a massive social event – unlike uni with socials every Wednesday, you’re now expected to work Monday-Friday, 9-5, like a fully fledged adult. Nights out are now planned weeks, not hours, in advance and require more work than a military operation. Oh, and the hangovers are 10x worse now.
So despite not having a clue what I’m meant to be doing on a daily basis any more, I’ve been told to make the most of these first few find-your-feet months, as I’m sure the next 3.5 years will fly by and I’ll soon be presenting at my viva with some dodgy Texan accent.
If anyone has any questions about the application process or tips on surviving PhD life, please leave them in the comments!
The future Dr Jones (cue Aqua playing on repeat) x
I think I’m definitely not alone when I say that I’ve considered giving up on education more than once (sometimes more than once a day) during my postgrad degree. For anyone else in the same position here are a few things I wish I had been told before hand:
- It is a HUGE commitment – you actually have to go to classes – unlike at undergrad where you could just turn your alarm off and roll over. Not only do you have to turn up, but you have to read stuff and somehow prepare an opinion.. all on your own. You are also expected to show face at conferences and plan all of your own meetings – and turn up having read every single paper your tutor has ever published and be prepared to discuss them.
- You will have no money – Masters degrees range from about £4k for an MA to £14k for an MSc at UCL (still crying inside that I turned down their offer). At the moment the only funding English students receive is a postgrad loan for £10k. That’s it. For the whole year. So based on my MSc costing me a nice £7k, that’s £250 per month left to cover rent, food, bills and the occasional bottle of Echo Falls.
- You will (almost definitely) have to get a job – unless you know how to live off £250 a month – which if you do then please send me some tips – then you will have to get a job, and a job that fits around crazy amounts of deadlines and exams. Luckily I got my job at the Hydro through an internal transfer, so I would advise looking for zero hours contracts (yes, they shouldn’t be a thing) but they at least give you the flexibility you will definitely need.
- You will have no life – between working almost 40 hours a week just to afford to live, on top of a full time uni timetable, socialising is almost a thing of the past. You will get far too excited when you see two consecutive days off and immediately plan a trip to see friends or family only for uni to surprise you with a nice group presentation (which require you to actually meet up) for the day after.
- Making friends is a whole new ball game – gone are the days where you could roll out of bed and have a whole social circle around you. If you opt for postgrad halls, don’t be surprised if 95% of your flatmates are either over 40 or international students, neither of which tend to want to even know what Pub Golf is, never mind hold your visor when you’re dying in the toilets of the 6th pub. With the lack of time and money, joining clubs and societies is also difficult as you won’t have a regular schedule – or income – to fully make the most of uni life. Plus, if like me, you’ve completely moved away from your first uni, you’ll just have to make the most of it and pick the most normal looking group on your course which isn’t as easy as it sounds!
- It lasts the whole year – I know this one should be obvious before you start, but masters degrees are a full 12 months. So whilst your friends are off on sunny holidays or pitching tents at festivals, you’ll be dragging your lab coat out of hibernation for a 3 month period in a lab. Masters = no summer.
- It won’t make you any more employable – this one does depend on your field, however in science it’s absolutely true. Most jobs or PhD position’s I’ve applied for have said an MSc would be “desirable”. I have an MSc. Have I got a job? No. Why? Because employers prefer industrial experience to education. How do you get experience? With a job. How do you get a job? With a masters. Catch-22 ring a bell?
So there is a list / rant of my current feelings towards a postgraduate degree. Now remind me again why I’m applying for PhDs?