This time next week…
by e_e_evans PhD student
Ahh Malcolm Tucker is shouting from another tab on my browser which means that yes, I am watching “The Thick of It”. I won’t have the opportunity for that sort of thing soon so I might as well make the most of Netflix because a) playtime will soon be over, and it’s back to the coal face and b) I’ll probably be without internet out of office hours for at least a fortnight.
After all the applications, sorting things out and the many house-hunting trips to Swansea the blindly obvious has crystallised in my brain: Postgraduate is a totally different kettle of fish to undergraduate (yes, cue the slow sarcastic claps, I know, I know).
So let’s do a comparison run-down:
Oh for the high school hand-holding of the UCAS application system. I may have not personally got on with it but at least you only had to fill out one form (after you’ve drafted 9 versions of your personal statement, of course. What? Just me?)
In the PG camp, if you can’t type out your personal details in your sleep you’ve clearly not filled out enough application forms. And you fill out a lot. While also applying for jobs. While also having minor existential crisis’.
I didn’t get interviewed for my undergraduate degree, indeed most academic style interview horror stories always begin with “I was offered an interview at Oxford/Cambridge…”. After a quick bit of digger here turns out it’s very subject dependant (and Oxbridge dependant) if you actually get interviewed. Also, a lot of interviews are more encouragements for the student to accept an offer not a way of deciding if a student will get the offer (apparently).
Being interviewed for a postgraduate course seems to be a given though. And it will be academic. And you need to know your stuff. (I was lucky, I applied for something I could wax-lyrical about for hours. I guess that’s the trick, picking something you know something about already and filling in basic gaps in your knowledge before hand. I read papers and made notes on the train to give my worrying brain something to do).
For my Bachalor’s degree application (before, during and after applying) I spoke to exactly one member of staff for any meaningful length of time. He only took me for one module in the first year, half a module in the second year, half a module in the third year and nothing in my final year. On the other hand, the three people who interviewed me for my PhD (yeah, three, I hadn’t realised until I did an interview prep thing with the University careers service that it could be more than one or two), were my prospective supervisor, my prospective second supervisor and one of the Post-Docs from the research group. And all three of those people, if I was going to be accepted, I would be working extremely closely with. No pressure then!
(Brief anecdotal aside: If you manage to make a funny quip (unintentionally) and they laugh you will at least know they’re people you’ll be able to get on with. I made a self-deprecating remark about how rubbish my XRCT scans had been for my 4th year project ( they actually were, I didn’t have enough time for the scans to be better) and that got a chuckle. It put me at ease at least).
I know each supervisor is different and every post-grad needs to find their kind of supervisor. I’m the sort of person who needs someone I want to do well for (make ’em proud, y’know). Some people need a more Jedi approach, or an equal partnership or whatever. Either way, it’s so very different from the kind of relationship you have with staff at undergraduate level (and I was in a pretty laid back department at Durham, first name terms, y’know).
Boy, oh, boy, where do I start with this! To think I thought undergrad halls and college accommodation was complicated! To think I thought getting a shared house in second year was complicated! Little did I know what it would be like trying to arrange private rentals from the opposite end of the country. Lots of blisters, long journeys, notes scribbled on bits of papers and agents trying to up-sell some of the worst dives I’ve ever seen in my life, that’s what it’s like. With a week to go all the setbacks and issues I’ve had with rentals has meant I haven’t signed for a place yet (I’ve got somewhere lined up though, it just has a wasps nest in the kitchen roof space…)
So, ye who have somewhere sorted for this academic year, be thankful, and for all those still looking, the housing market can’t be any worse than Swansea (some of the houses I saw were fine actually, it’s just a landlord’s market there).
It shouldn’t come to this at least… source
Am I a student now? Well, yes, technically (at least according to my council tax bill). Am I employed? Sort of, I’m getting money to do work. Does this mean I have a, gasp, job?! I’m still not sure but it’s an interesting quandary. I know some PGs who treat their PhD like a full time job (the more computer/lab based types who have to go to the department between 9 and 5) while others continue the concept of “reading” a subject at University (getting their reading done any time they like because books can be transported to the comfort of one’s own bedroom. And in your bedroom you don’t get frowned at for wearing PJs while working).
Speaking personally I’m going to try and treat my PhD like a quote-unquote job in the vain attempt to get out of the less productive habits of my undergraduate. Out with manana, manana, in with a regular work schedule. Out with PJs until 11, in with smart-casual office garb (“dress smart, think smart”…?!). Out with mid-afternoon YouTube breaks, in with mid-afternoon tea breaks etcetera.
So abandon all expectations, all who enter here, that going into academia is an easy way out. It’s just an equally tough road, just less travelled.