It’s coming up to a year since I started my PhD (officially at least – the journey started about 8 months before then!) so I thought I’d share the answers to some of the FAQ’s I get about what it means to do a PhD, run a business, and manage some level of sanity.
Speak to the university you’d like to attend about their PhD programmes and what time of year they accept applications. Academics sometimes have call-outs for specific topics they’re looking for students to take up so it’s worth asking about those too. In total the application process took me around 6 months which included paperwork, application (submitting a research proposal with the help of my supervisor), and interview. My cohort started in October 2022.
I’m doing an ‘integrated PhD’ (iPhD) which for full-time students means that it’s a 4-year PhD and year 1 is taught, so there’s modules, lectures, tutorials, assignments and presentations all with set deadlines. As I’m a part-time student I have 2 years to complete all my modules, but I’ve done extra in year 1 so I’ll hopefully be complete by Christmas 2023. Full-timers then have 3 years to conduct their own research and submit their thesis (your research document), and complete your viva (an interview/discussion with experts in your field where you ‘defend’ and discuss your research – it’s usually around 3-hours). That means full-timers have a total of 4 years to complete everything and again, as I’m part-time I have a total of 7 years to complete everything but I’m aiming for 4.
Depending on your subject and which department you’re part of, within that time you’ll likely be expected (or at least encouraged) to publish at least one paper during that time. This shows that your research is of a high enough quality to be published (which really helps when submitting), as well looking great on your CV if you chose to remain in academic after completing.
There’s loads of different ways to fund your PhD, the best thing will be to speak to the university you want to attend to find out their options. Depending on your subject area there’s potentially funding available to pay for your fees and provide you with a living wage for the next 3 or 4 years, or you could just have your fees paid and continue to work alongside researching part-time. Or like me you could self-fund so pay for your own fees. This option does give you more freedom, and it means that you don’t have to stick within set research peramitors that might be in place by funding streams. It also means that you’re really invested in your research because you’re the one that’s paying for it! You can pick up a student loan, which currently in the UK covers fees and is paid in installments over the length of your course and it written-off when you’re 60 (I think! Don’t hold me to this – please do your own research and do NOT take this as any kind of financial advice!)
Final thing to consider is that with a scholarship or funding you might be expected to do a certain amount of teaching hours within the university in return – this is great experience, especially if you want to stay in academia, but it’s another commitment to consider when planing your PhD.
As above, depending on how you fund it you might be required to do set amount of teaching hours so this is something to consider especially the deeper you get into the PhD. Aside from that, and of course the financial commitment, this first year has been a much bigger time commitment than I ever realised it would be. Yes I’ve done additional modules this year (my daughter starts school in Sept so wanted to get as much done before then so I didn’t have the schools holidays to navigate), but it’s still been a lot. Some modules were block modules so you had a week of lectures 9am – 5pm, others ran over a few months with weekly lectures ranging from 2-hours to 8-hours. In total I’ve done 7 modules this year and have 4 more to complete between Oct 23 – Jan 24.
The big thing to consider too isn’t just the time in class, it’s the time reading. You could literally read forever and it still wouldn’t be enough, so being mindful of the volume that’s expected and needed is important (it’s so interesting though I promise!)
This will depend on your subject and school, so take a look at their website and speak to people involved. Please don’t count yourself out if you don’t have all the criteria listed – you’ve potentially got a lot of other things to bring to the table such as industry experience, access to data, and of course charisma and charm! If you’re passionate about your subject, you’ve got an idea for some research you think would be interesting and impactful, and you’re excited at the idea of undertaking the most transformative journey of your life (sounds very dramatic I know, but it’s totally true) then reach out to someone and ask!
Finally, here are some top tips that will hopefully get you on your way…
- find a supervisor you enjoy working with and who aligns to your morals and ethics. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together over the next 3/4/7 years and you need to be coming from the same place
- connect with other PhD students. Creating relationships within your cohort in the begining is what’s going to help you through
- speak to your friends and family. Let them know what you’re embarking upon and that it might mean you have to miss out on some things. If they’re able to empathis and support you along the way you’ll feel a lot less guilty about taking time away from them.
- get set up with software from day 1. Utilising things like Zotaro (for managing your references and organising papers) from the begining means you get into great habbits and will make life easier in the longrun.
- enjoy every single minute! I already know I’m going to look back on this as probably the best time of my life, and even though it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done it’s also the most fulfilling – drink it in and embrase the journey, even when it feels uphill.
To find out more about my research into networking events take a look at my new podcast – ‘NetKno The Networking Show’! Each week we release a new episode featuring loads of practical and theoretical content on the fascinating world of networking. You can watch on YouTube or stream on your favourite podcast platform HERE!