Starting Your PhD at a New Institution
by Grace Harvey
Starting a PhD has its own anxieties, but moving to a new institution for your research can be stressful in itself. After four glorious years at Newcastle, I decided that the only way I could survive a PhD (both emotionally and financially) would be to move back to my family in the bustling metropolis of Lincoln. At this stage, I’d decided that I wanted to do a PhD but hadn’t entirely decided where, so I settled on a location parameter (which effectively included the whole of the United Kingdom) and got started on researching departments that would be both interested and capable of supporting my research. It didn’t take too long to find a few places that I was especially interested in, and after firing off a few emails to prospective supervisors, I’d narrowed my list down to one. I arranged to meet with a tutor and was incredibly lucky to find my supervisory dream-team on my doorstep at Lincoln University. The rest, they say, is history. Yet, moving hasn’t always been easy, and it’s forced me to confront various problems; I’ve listed some pieces of advice that have been passed down to me and have proven golden!
The first question you should ask is why you want to move. Generally, students move for funding opportunities and research specialisms, but finance and family also play into this. It was important for me to have the right support (both academically and emotionally) so make sure this is the first thing you tackle.
Second, are you planning to move with your studies? I was prepared to travel a reasonable distance, but many students do commute for PG research. My search was, however, limited to places that I could get to regularly enough for supervisory meetings, but also research groups and other dept. events.
Whether you’re looking for a funded or a self funded position, arrange to meet with your supervisors before you apply. This seems relatively self evident, but it’s easy to forget that you have to work intensely with these people for at least three years- get to know them, and figure out whether both they and the institution are right for you. Also, you won’t blindside them with an obscure and unsolicited application.
Research specialism is key. When I conducted my original search of institutions, I confronted an incredible amount of institutional elitism which was both vulgar and wholly misrepresentative of the PhD experience. Although don’t take it personally if your proposal is rejected- this isn’t a comment about your research but more that your work is perhaps left field of their research priorities.
That said, finding the right team is more than just a research specialism. I knew from my first meeting with my supervisor, and her willingness to help develop a successful proposal that the PhD would be a constructive, enjoyable and successful experience.
Get involved! This has been the hardest part of moving institution and you must be prepared to be proactive. It can be incredibly difficult into a department and PG community based on independent research so be prepared to get stuck in. I’ve generally found both staff and students like an extra set of hands with conferences, research groups, projects and other schemes.
Establish where other students are. As I’ve said (repeatedly) many students move around, so keep in touch with colleagues and build good networks. I know the friends and contacts I made whilst at Newcastle continue to be valuable so be aware of the potential!