A New Academic Year: Settling in and Finding Your Groove
by Fiona Martinez
This time of year is the busiest time on any University campus. Now that I’m the ancient age of 26, 8 years from my experience as a ‘fresher’, it’s also a time for a great deal of nostalgia. Given that many of you may now be settling into postgraduate life, maybe you have just started an MA/MSc/MRes or you’ve recently begun a PhD, I wanted to volunteer some top tips for beginning this exciting (though perhaps initially terrifying) new chapter of your life!
Find Your Bearings – Take time to get to know your environment! Though you may already feel the urge to begin tackling your word count or to start on a pile of reading taking some time to familiarise yourself with a new campus or even new home is important and enjoyable! Some things, like knowing where the library is, will be essential. Others, like locating the best coffee, will be equally important. With the beauty of google maps, and the often helpful people working on student inductions, there’s a wealth of resources for you to use which can make your first weeks a little less daunting (and can save you consuming awful caffeine for an entire semester!)
Attend the Induction Events – Do they seem pointless and like mere interferences with your new work priorities? Maybe, sometimes. Do they often occur in buildings entirely new to you (see top tip above to avoid this annoyance!) and therefore take a while to locate? Again, maybe sometimes. BUT they are essential to you learning about the requirements of your course, meeting your teachers and making friends! I attended all induction events, including those which were not specifically related to my faculty, and I highly recommend them as an opportunity to connect with the university’s community and familiarise yourself with the, though sometimes banal, absolutely necessary admin details of your course and department.
Find your Groove – This doesn’t have to be disco related, though I am certainly in favour of some disco-ing throughout any PG experience/life experience. Perhaps once you’ve done that, find your work groove! This might be harder at first than you’d expect, and that’s okay! Initially, you might struggle to get into a rhythm with your work. So, in those first weeks it’s wise to experiment. Study in different places, and see if there are any patterns in your productivity. Try and spend a day reading and one writing, and then mix them up. Once again, you might spot some patterns and therefore learn a bit more about what will work for you throughout your research project!
“Friends” – (I’m using some quotation marks from The Inbetweeners here, if you have no idea what I’m referring to I’m sure google will provide you with roughly a thousand GIFs.) Friends are so important to the PhD experience – I can’t say that enough. I genuinely don’t know what I would’ve done without a PhD buddy who encouraged me at weak moments, battled my imposter syndrome when I was too tired to do so and at times just empathised completely with the nature of life in research. It’s hard work, and your family and friends might well be further away from you now so a friend close by can be a wonderful thing. Even if you haven’t moved away to study, there’s nothing like talking to somebody dealing with the same pressures and challenges and exchanging a look that says “This is so hard. Shall we just go and get some coffee and cake until we can change this exhaustion back into determination?”