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Postgraduate Research

Diary of a PhD student: Preparing for a PhD

Alex Jeffery explains the process of preparing for a PhD in the first of his blogs about his PhD experience

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Having completed a Masters in Modern History around this time last year, I opted to take a break from studying to recharge my batteries before starting a PhD in History at Queen’s. During my time away from university I worked, travelled and spent a lot of time with friends and family.

Aside from the above, I have also been preparing for the start of my PhD in September. Initially, this was quite a daunting prospect, however the following steps I have taken have really helped me prepare for when I make my return to student life.

1. Reading Books

I’ve tried to ensure that throughout my break from uni I’ve more often than not had a book related to the topic of my PhD on the go. This has given me a head start in terms of finding material that may prove to be useful for my thesis, improved my general understanding of my chosen subject and also introduced me to a whole load of other works related to my topic that I never knew existed.

2. Regularly exchanging emails with my supervisor and QUB admin staff

As I live in England, I’ve done a lot of emailing with QUB staff. Don’t be afraid of asking a lot of questions as everyone I’ve been in contact with at the university has been super friendly and informative. My supervisor has been great at maintaining communication with me and I’ve found that regularly exchanging emails with him has been a really useful way of helping us to get to know one another, which means that come September there will already be a degree of familiarity between us.

3. Relaxing

Okay, so although the above points have been important, I have also switched off completely at times and put my feet up. From what I’ve gathered, PhDs are incredibly draining and the last thing I want to be when I start in September is burnt out from doing too much preparation. Although I want to be prepared, I also want to start in a healthy frame of mind, so I’ve made sure to take time away from PhD-related things to see friends, go to the cinema and watch football. This has helped me strike up a good work-life balance, which is something I am sure I will also need to do once I return to student life, so it’s all good practice really.

4. Familiarising myself with QUB and Belfast

As I’ve never lived in the city of Belfast before, I’ve made use of QUB’s YouTube channel and website to help improve my knowledge of the university campus and city in general. Finding out where key university buildings are, for example, means I can hopefully avoid a repetition of my early undergraduate days (a 5-minute trip to the Student Union for a ticket to a social event turned into a 45-minute wander around the back streets of Sheffield!).

5. Finding out about other people’s experiences

Reading blogs current PhD students have posted on the QUB website has been a great way of gaining tips on how to handle different aspects of PhD life. Additionally, you can’t beat getting help from people who are actually in the position you will eventually be in. Picking the brains of friends who are currently doing PhDs themselves has been a great way of gaining a valuable insight into what I can expect to encounter once I become a student again in September.

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Photo: Alex Jeffery
Alex Jeffery
PhD History