My first 6 months in a PhD program (UK)

It’s official. I have completed my first 6 months as a PhD student!

What a journey it has been so far and plenty of lessons learned. Don’t get me wrong, normal day-to-day life still went on, but the PhD journey brings a splash of nuance that has transformed my world.

Going through the process of getting accepted into a UK university is challenging, but possible. The most important thing to do is find the right researcher/ university match. After sending out some proposals, I landed a great opportunity where I connected with the staff, felt a great flow of ideas, and immersed myself in a creative environment.  

Let’s look at the past 6 months and see where my PhD took me…

October 2019

The first major hurdle of my PhD was getting my proposal to reflect my research goals in a concise way.

Starting with the proposal, I sat down with my advisors to come up with a version that best suited my interests. After 5 drafts and multiple meetings, I landed a proposal that really felt achievable and possible. Little did I know that this would not be the end-all-be-all proposal, though. What I learned through the process of self-editing is that my proposal and research will be constantly evolving.

As I chip away at the stone of my PhD research, my proposal will shape into a unique form all its own. By the time I am ready to present my work in 3ish years, the proposal will have transformed to be nothing like what I first submitted.

Editing proposals is called a ‘working proposal’ and if you’re considering doctoral studies, get ready for the changes that will come from sharing ideas and diving into your research. My advice here would be to remain open-minded and adaptable. It is not always easy listening to feedback or taking on criticism or suggestions, but your advisors are here to help you succeed and want you to complete your course. Likewise, your research can bunny trail you into areas you never considered but find interesting. This leads me to warn you that it is important to find passion in what you are doing. If your proposal begins to lose it’s shine within the years of your research, you can hit the reset button in some way to help bring that spark back. Of course I am speaking from an arts degree, things might be more rigid in other fields, but I would like to remain optimistic.

My proposal from October 2019 focused on meditation and music but by March 2020 transformed to focus on the reactions one has when listening to binaural beats. I have researched areas in art therapy, music theory, religion, etc. and keep finding new terms to explore.

 November 2019

The second biggest hurdle of my doctoral studies is accepting the commute for what it is, a long and unproductive journey.

I made the choice to continue living where I am at in the UK and stay with my same employer instead of moving closer to my university. This choice seemed easier at first. Afterall, when I lived in America I would drive an hour to work and didn’t mind.

However, this commute to university has grown to be more daunting. At first I was pretty exited about getting work done on the train, practice my language lessons on Duolingo, catching up on sleep, etc. There are plenty of things to do on the train and it is a great opportunity for ‘me’ time.

So, what went wrong? Public transport is a godsend when you do not have a car but you are confined to the timetables and schedules. If a train is running late, so are you.

 My commute, one-way, is 2.5 hours. I usually take the route with 2 connections and each time I travel I have to request a seat. Bookings for these trains are always high in demand and the trains are so full it is incredibly uncomfortable getting my laptop out to work or even relax. The space is already small on a train, but when people are standing around you during a long commute it is hard to get in a bubble mode and focus on other things.

November was rough for me…. Really rough. There was a huge rainstorm and flooding occurred at one of my connecting stations. I waited 3 hours, then 4, then 5, but I began to develop an intense migraine and had to find a hotel to crash in. I suffer from migraines and used to get them about 3 times a week. Since managing my anxiety, I get them less, but this whole chaos from the trains really left me internally freaking out. Luckily it is all in the past now and I am grateful for having the ability to problem solve under pressure.

November taught me I need to plan as best as I can for the commutes and come up with ways to feel comfortable and relax on the train. My solution is to listen to music using a meditation music app and bring a sleep mask so I can block out the world and step into my own space.

December 2019

Each time I would go to campus I would fill my days with meeting my advisors and then spending time at Starbucks or the library.

I was sitting in Starbucks, immersed in my computer screen, when all the sudden I needed to take a sip of my matcha tea latte. I like to practice the art of focus when I drink my matcha. This is a technique I picked up in CBT to help with my anxiety. Essentially, I pick up the cup, feel the cup, look at the tea, smell the tea, and really put myself in the moment with my drink. Whilst doing this, I scanned the Starbucks lobby and saw tables and tables of students chatting and smiling faces. It dawned on me that I am really lacking in the university experience if I am not socializing.

How does an adult make friends? I still do not know how to answer that question… but what I came up with seems to be working. I decided to do two things, become a student rep for my fellow doctoral students and to start a doctoral student society.

Being a student rep and creating a new society on campus gives me more responsibility but these opportunities would not exist if I was not a university student. So far, the balance has been fine. I do not feel overwhelmed by the roles of being a uni student, a rep, and a society organizer. Let’s see if this feeling lasts!

January 2020

Stepping outside of the research world and working on my artistic side of my PhD is what January was all about. I’m still at beginner level with music production, but I am exited to see how my music shapes itself over the next few years.

Right now I am keeping it basic, using music samples and mashing them together to generate binaural beat music.

I have also worked on my branding, building my website and Youtube channel, Instragram, Facebook, Etsy, and Fiverr. All of these are linked in the footer of my website!

February 2020

It is time to explore my campus and enjoy my time whilst I am there. I am usually a serious person and I need to remind myself to relax and soak up the world around me.

I have made an effort to stay at various hotels near my campus and walk to different parks and locations to get a sense of my surroundings. This gives me more time to be on campus and puts me off having to commute back home right away.

Taking photos really helps with looking at my environment. I take the time to lift my camera up and look for what I find to be pleasant or inspiring. I really appreciate having this hobby and always look forward to sharing my photos with others.

March 2020

I am in the full swing of research, writing, and reviewing. I have been consistent with meeting my advisors on a monthly basis and think the routine is what is keeping me on track. I am prepping for my research review and believe the content I have generated so far will help reassure the university I can achieve my doctorate.

Throughout the process I have learned the importance of writing things down, making a goals list, and holding myself accountable. Though this is a huge part of PhD study, it has helped in my personal and professional life.

My current career has me working from home a lot more and my PhD skills have taught me how to remain productive when working alone. Likewise, my personal life has transformed as well. I journal regularly and write down my goals.

Journaling stands out this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am officially in self-isolation and going through my journal is helping me stay on track. Not only do I write my goals, but I write lists of affirmations, express my gratitude, and come up with ideas to propel me towards the future. My journal is essentially a hub for my dreams and has become a space that brings me joy and hope.

Final thoughts,

Reviewing my doctorate research after this 6-month mark has been rewarding. My PhD might seem separate from my day-to-day life, but the reality is this experience has impacted many areas. From problem solving to goal setting, my PhD is really setting me up for success.

As of now, I wouldn’t change anything over these past 6 months and really value the experience so far. I liked sitting down to write this and I think I will have to write more about my experiences. Check back to my blog, I plan on posting more!

If you have any questions about the PhD process feel free to send them my way, maybe I will blog about it 😊

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