Transition from PGT to PGR
By Fiona from the Student Team
As you are coming to the end of your postgraduate taught master’s degree (PGT), you might be wondering what your next steps will be. A number of options are available, including finding a job, starting a family and enrolling for a postgraduate research course (PhD). After thorough research, you decide a PhD is your best next step, but you are still unsure about what it involves, what challenges may arise and how to handle them best.
I decided to begin a PhD too, and I’m glad that I did. This blog post is written from my experience, and those of my friends, to give you some useful tips and ideas for preparing for this new chapter in your academic career.
The first thing to remember is that a PGT is a taught course entailing regular scheduled lectures and seminars, where attendance is normally required. A PhD on the other hand is research-based and mostly entails independent study — more like what you do when writing your PGT dissertation.
Depending on your supervisors, you may be fully responsible for setting all your PhD targets and timelines, except those that are prescribed at school, faculty or university level (such as mid-year and annual reviews). This in itself may be a challenge, especially if you have personal distractions. Additionally, you must contribute new knowledge to your area of research as a PhD student, which is a step further from simply being critical of other authors’ work. Some degree of originality in your work is required to achieve this. Sometimes the more you work through your research, the more you realise that someone else already came up with an idea you thought would be your brainchild, sending you back to the drawing board. It is natural (and ok!) to feel a bit demotivated in such cases. It is however important for you to not give up.
Therefore, here are some tips that I hope you will find useful as you embark on your PhD journey:
#1 Choose a topic you are passionate about for your PhD: This can motivate you to carry on no matter the challenge you are facing. Don’t worry if your research focus changes as you read more literature; it’s perfectly normal. In fact, that is what the PhD process is about.
#2 Plan, plan and re-plan: Planning is paramount. It helps to always schedule your tasks at least one week in advance. This could range from an appointment with your GP or visiting friends and family to submitting your work for review and attending a scheduled workshop.
I always use the ‘Urgent-Important Matrix’ to plan my activities. As such, I prioritise whatever is both urgent and important, and I eliminate anything that is neither important, nor urgent. Take a look at the Eisenhower Matrix to appreciate how it works (if you are not already familiar with it);
#3 Find a buddy to work with: It could be that buddy who will ring you up at 6 am to prepare for school, or that with whom you will have discussions while at school. It doesn’t really matter. Just find someone (or a couple of people) to journey with;
#4 Take advantage of available workshops and online resources: A number of workshops and online resources are available to you as a PhD student. Some of these are organised by the library and can be found under My Research Essentials and My Learning Essentials , while others are available at faculty or school level.
These workshops and resources mostly focus on methods and transferable skills such as research methods, time management and communication or presentation techniques rather than the technical skills you require to write your thesis. Nonetheless, these non-technical skills are equally important and not just for your PhD but also your future career, no matter the path you take.
The Manchester Doctoral College and PGR Life are other great places to find useful information on doctoral training and other researcher development opportunities across the university. Why not check them out?
#5 Set a writing target and regularly assess your progress against it: Don’t worry if you feel like what you are writing may change. It probably will as you research further, but that is better than finding out months later that you don’t have anything new to submit to your supervisors.
Attending library workshops such as “Shut Up and Write” definitely helps. ‘Shut Up and Write’ gives researchers an opportunity to put researching to one side and concentrate instead on writing down their research findings for a fixed amount of time. Further Details can be found here:
Workshops (The University of Manchester Library)
Learn about My Research Essentials workshops and training for researchers and book your place with The University of…
#6 Form or join a PhD reading club: Use the club to read one another’s work before submission. This could also be a brilliant opportunity to make a group of friends to help support you through your work. Making communities and connections allow you space to celebrate, commiserate and understand each other as you’ll be experiencing similar challenges and will enjoy acknowledging each other’s achievements.
#7 Communicate with your supervisors: Whether you are facing academic or personal challenges, let your supervisors know. Don’t let anything spiral out of control. If you feel like you need more professional (and confidential) help, the University’s Counselling Service is a good place to go. In addition, the library currently offers online support and resources if you need help with more technical matters such as data analysis. Further details can be found here: Maths and Statistics online support.
#8 Take time off and have some fun: Some time off especially after submitting your work for review or successfully completing an appraisal is always worthwhile. It will help you remain focussed once you come back. The International Society and the Students’ Union for instance organise regular trips across the UK and fun activities ranging from cultural evenings and cinema clubs to Pangaea and pub quizzes. Remember to take time to get to know Manchester, too. There’s plenty of parks, free museums and galleries, public libraries and a vibrant city centre where you can find a great food and drink scene, as well as shopping. You’re spoilt for choice!
#9 Do not neglect your wellbeing: After all, your PhD is just one aspect of your life, and not your whole life. Therefore, always find time to connect, be active, take notice, learn and discover, give and be healthy. Have you for example considered joining a sports club, a foreign language class, or a student society? UoM Sport as well the Students’ Union and the International Society have lots of opportunities in these areas. You could even come to some of the library’s relaxation sessions, or just be kind to strangers for example by opening the door for them. It all pays off at the end of the day even if it is just in the form of a smile from someone else;
#10 Know what works best for you: Obviously we are all different and do things differently. While I’ve brought up some things to consider and useful resources, it is ultimately up to you to figure out what works best. You are the only one who can definitively know the best strategy for you.