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University Sites > Postgraduate Students Association  > PGSA Guide & FAQ  
PGSA Guide & FAQ

Queen's PGSA: The Post-Graduate Students Association

Confused? Have a question? The PGSA has compiled a downloadable guide full of advice to make your experience at Queen's even better.

We've also created an FAQ to answer your questions about skills development, finance, careers, and other burning issues.


Skills Development

How can I manage my time?

One of the major issues is that students feel overwhelmed by the size of the task (ie completing the PhD). It is a good idea not to think of it in terms of one big continuum of time or one huge task. Instead, break it down into separate and more manageable bits. eg first year, background reading; preparation for first meeting with supervisor; planning the literature review; preparation for differentiation, setting up filing systems etc. There is a skills training session on Time Management (See the PTSP manual for details.) which you could sign up for which will give you ideas about planning, setting goals and managing your time.

If you experience frequent problems with organisation, sequencing and time management, you may have dyspraxia. People with dyspraxia may share problems with people with dyslexia. If you think this may apply to you or someone you know, contact SGC Disability service or follow the link below for more information on dyspraxia.

How do I manage my PhD most efficiently?

This will partly depend on what for you is an efficient use of time; also on whether you are full or part time and what sort of other commitments you have in your professional and personal life. A first port of call is a time management session; you need to follow up then by making short, medium and long term plans for yourself. It may well be useful to talk to your supervisory, a member of the supervisory team and/or your skills trainer.

How can I improve my grammar & writing?

There are various ways of doing this – if English is not your first language, you may wish to enrol in a language school such as INTO (if you use this as a search term on Queen’s main website page, you will get onto their website). Look out also for student led initiatives such as the PhD Writing Communities. In the skills training manual you will see some Writing Skills courses which you can sign up for. There are also some great handouts on writing skills from the Learning Development Service (LDS) at the Student Guidance Centre. You can meet with the tutors to discuss your writing or you can download handouts at www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/learning/DownloadableResources/. In addition, you could think about setting up an informal network with peers where you can support each other by reading each other’s work.

How will I be able to keep my motivation up?

As the PhD is a lengthy process with a lot of solitary working, it can be useful to set yourself targets and apply some sort of recognition/reward system for when you meet your targets. The satisfaction gained from working successfully to targets can help with motivation.

There is a skills training session on motivation which will help you to develop awareness of key issues for you in motivation. (See the PTSP manual for details.) This will help you to identify key issues and put appropriate measures for support in place. If there is a particular issue that is bothering you and/or stopping you from working, contact Annette (a.mkerr@qub.ac.uk) on the skills training team (Personal & Professional Development) for help.

How can I get help with differentiation?

There is a training session on this. (See the PTSP manual). It may also be helpful to network with 2nd year PGR students to find out how it was for them and get some tips. See also the list of helpful websites at the end.

Who and what decides ‘developmental training’? How much should be done in the first year?

There is a wide range of course to choose from to cater to the diversity of the needs the student body will bring. In addition students can work out what gaps there are in their skills using the Skills Analysis Checklist in the PTSP manual so as to then decide which skills areas will be particularly useful for them.

Some of the courses are designed to be useful at the early stages of the PhD, such as Time Management, while Teaching Students may be more suited to the end of first year or early in 2nd year.

Why must all students complete a pre-set amount of training days even when very few of the training sessions have any appeal or value to them?

PhD students have vastly differing needs in regards to skills training. A student who has been out of the academic world for a number of years may need to focus more on Research Skills & Techniques, Research Environment & Research Management for example than a student who has just completed a masters or come from undergraduate studies. On the other hand, a student who has progressed from undergraduate studies through to PhD without experience of the working world may need to focus more on Personal Effectiveness & Communication Skills.

The number of training days was set to ensure that PhD students have sufficient exposure to skills training before completing the PhD.

Why do skills sessions that appeal to students usually have no scheduled time or are fully booked out?

If there is a course that you wish to attend that is fully booked, please contact the PG office. We try to be as responsive to students as possible and in some cases, it is possible to offer more of the same course. Even if that is not possible, it may be possible to have a 1-1 meeting which will allow you to address some of your specific issues in relation to the topic in question. Contact Annette Mac Artain-Kerr who offers a 1-1 consultancy service for issues related to personal & professional development at: a.mkerr@qub.ac.uk

Useful Websites



When do I get paid?

If you receive funding (i.e. Queen’s studentship, ORSAS funding, etc.) students are paid in arrears on the 25th of each month (unless the 25th is a Saturday or Sunday when you will be paid on the Friday before). Students should be aware that different banks take different times in getting the money into a student’s account and so it may be up to a day later than this date.

How do I get paid?

You have to be paid into a UK bank account and you will be paid monthly.

Why do I not get paid in advance? Why is it monthly in arrears?

You are paid exactly the same as staff at QUB i.e. monthly in arrears. It is also used in case you decide to withdraw as it means that you are not overpaid and therefore owe the studentship funder money.

Why is it paid into a UK bank account?

You are paid into a UK bank account because you are paid on the same system that pays staff and we can only pay into UK bank accounts. As a PhD student you should be in regular attendance on the campus and therefore should have a UK bank account

How do I cope financially?

It is a case of budgeting sensibly, making the most of your money and if you feel that you are struggling financially then make sure you talk to someone. Do not let it drag on, there are financial advisors in the Students Union who are there to help plus there is a hardship fund available to apply for.

How can I get funding for research travel? E.g. to conferences etc.

If you are funded by DEL for your PhD then you get £700 per year for incidental expenses like conference and travel. There are also travel awards available through your school and within the school centres. It is alway good to check your school website or speak with the school/centre administrators. There are small travel bursaries available administered through Academic and Student Affairs, check their website for details.

Useful Websites

www.qub.ac.uk/sgc - Follow the links for Income & Student Finance

- Follow the links for Money+


When should I start applying for jobs, especially when I’m not sure when I will finish my PhD?

This will depend on your own circumstances and the type of jobs you are interested in, and keeping an eye on job adverts regularly can be a useful way to see what’s available even if you are not yet ready to start applying. Broadly, major graduate employers tend to recruit on a yearly cycle aimed at a September start, so you would need to start thinking about applying a year before you hope to start work. Other employers are much more likely to advertise positions when they have a need for a particular member of staff and will usually be looking for someone to start within a few months. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, although there are exceptions, many students who embark on a demanding job before having started writing up find it difficult to complete their theses.

Who can I talk to ensure that this is the right pathway for me? / Am I doing the right course?

There is no right or wrong answer to this query, but getting advice from a wide range of people should help you to weigh up the arguments. Within Queen’s your supervisor and other staff in your group/department will be able to provide a discipline-specific perspective, whereas support staff from outside your school can offer a different viewpoint. You may wish to make an appointment with the PGR Senior Careers Adviser (shona.johnston@qub.ac.uk) to discuss the career implications of following alternative pathways/courses and/or make an appointment with Annette Mac Artain-Kerr(Personal & Professional Development) a.mkerr@qub.ac.uk to look at how to maximise your personal effectiveness when dealing with this and other issues.

I’m not sure I want to be an academic, what other options are there?

The majority of PhD graduates go on to work in roles outside academia, either immediately after graduation or further on in their career path. Some of the areas where PhD graduates often pursue successful careers are:
  • Continuing a research career outside academia, for example in industry, the public sector or the third sector
  • Using their detailed subject knowledge to pursue a career related to their discipline – popular options include consultancy, teaching, informal education, sales, administration, general management, media, publishing and knowledge transfer
  • Applying the transferable skills developed during the PhD to the same broad range of careers open to all graduates
  • Investigating self-employment or freelance careers
  • Developing a ‘portfolio career’ by combining several of these aspects
To view the career profiles of PhDs who have gone on to work in a wide range of areas, visit www.vitae.ac.uk/policy-practice/14773/What-Do-PhDs-Do-Case-Studies.html or www.beyondthephd.co.uk

Is careers relevant to first years?

Whether or not you already have ideas about your career, the sooner you start thinking about your plans and aspirations, the sooner you can start ensuring you have the right set of knowledge, skills and experiences to succeed in your chosen field. Early in your PhD may be the best time to get involved in additional activities so it’s useful to give some consideration to the areas you may need to develop. However, if you’ve left it till the very end it doesn’t mean it’s too late!

Other Burning Issues

How important is the 3 month review or is it just a paper exercise?

There ought to be no such thing as a paper exercise. Even if it does not seem like a very formal procedure, it is important to keep detailed notes and records of all such meetings.

How can I plan for and work towards differentiation?

  • Discuss the requirements with your supervisor and gather any forms you will need to complete for differentiation.
  • When you have that information, start to make a plan.

What happens if my differentiation doesn't go well?

Don't panic! You will be advised by your school about the details of what didn't go well; on the basis of that you ought to make a forward plan. This may involve resubmitting, in which case you need to look carefully at the feedback from the first time around. Use any supports you have available and don't forget to approach a member of the skills training team if you think it would help. Even if they cannot help you themselves, they may be able to direct you to someone who can.

Is it normal for me to feel like I'm not making any progress in the first 3 or 4 months?

Students in the early part of their first year frequently report frustration and a feeling of lack of progress and direction. This can be partly explained by the need to read around in order to think about the exact for m the research will take. It is important, however, to communicate with key people in your team, such as your supervisors, who will be able to give you feedback about your progress.

When am I likely to finish?

Although in the past PhDs could take up to ten years, most fulltime students are expected to finish their PhDs in three to four years and reported trends reflect faster completion rates in recent years.

How do I know where to start?

A PhD can appear to be overwhelming at the outset, especially as you do not have a timetable with classes to attend. It is important to communicate with your supervisors and other key academic staff early on so that you get a sense of what is useful for you to be doing. After that, you need to plan how to do it. If you need help with time management, you could book yourself in for a skills training workshop.

How soon are you supposed to publish?

Generally PhD students are not expected to publish until 2nd year although this can vary according to the area of research, the experience of the student, etc.

When am I expected to start presenting my material?

Presenting at conferences is usually something that occurs in the second year of the PhD lifecycle though as stated above it can vary.

How can I meet other postgraduate research students?

Attend PGSA events; use the opportunities at skills training and other events where you meet other PGR students, starting with Induction.

How do I manage my PhD if something serious or difficult happens in my personal life?

It depends on the event; first it is important to be aware of the services available to support all students in the event of emotional distress, eg the counselling service. It may also be useful to speak to your supervisor, especially if your work is or may be affected. Although communication about these things can be difficult, it may be better to give some information about what is happening than risk your supervisory thinking you are unable or unwilling to do the work.

FAQ compiled by the PGSA and PG Centre, with special thanks to Annette Mac Artain-Kerr, Shona Johnston, Mark Kelly, and Shama Alam.

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