The first half of my PhD was quite a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings. I learnt so much about myself and my work and truly developed personally and academically. In this reflection of the first year and half I wanted to cover a few key topics: the highs and lows, skills I developed and lessons I learnt for my last half.
The highs & Lows
I published my first, first author paper during my first year which was definitely a highlight! The paper was actually from my masters work but due to the time it took to modify my dissertation and get it peer reviewed it ended up getting published during my PhD. This really boosted my confidence that I do belong in academia as when I started my PhD I went through serious imposter syndrome. I was surrounded by people who were older than me and seemed so much more knowledgable about research and life in general. I felt very overwhelmed and confused as to how to approach such a huge project.
Slowly but surely, I started to find my feet and realised the feelings I had were totally normal and most people go through it when they start a PhD. My supervisors were very supportive and I started feeling more confident in my abilities. I also made some great connections with other PhD students and we formed a nice community. As part of my studentship, we got to go to Belfast for 2 days for the Autumn conference which was amazing for networking and a very nice trip overall!
My first year was very much gaining all the background knowledge to my research topic through conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. I had never done a meta-analysis before and found myself watching a lot of YouTube videos and reading up on how to conduct a meta-analysis. Although I would have liked the extra support with this, it felt great to be able to take control of my own learning and I felt very independent.
Of course, I can’t write about the lows without mentioning COVID-19. I was half way through my first year that we went into lockdown which really affected my mental health and work. Plans had to be changed as travel to Bangladesh, where I was supposed to carry out fieldwork, was no longer possible. The first few months of lockdown was very difficult, however, I slowly managed to come up with a plan B and get back on track. I ended my first year on quite a low and feeling very unsure about what the rest of my PhD would look like and if my plan B would work and be enough. I finished the draft of my systematic review chapter and made a start on my ethics application.
Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety started to wear off as I went through the first half of my second year. My ethics application got approved with no major issues which was a real boost. Although 2021 brought a third lockdown in the UK, I was feeling much better than I did in 2020. Part of this was definitely because of the extra curricular activities I had taken on. I taught and demonstrated in the School of Psychology which was a really nice experience and strengthened my knowledge on qualitative and qualitative research methods. I was also part of the Students for Global Health Newcastle Committee and was organising and co-chairing the National Global Health conference with Sir Michael Marmot as our keynote speaker. This was an amazing experience, we had over 200 attendees and the conference was a real success!
Finally, the last few months of the first half of my PhD saw amazing progress in my data collection. Progress I could never have imagined but it just goes to show that things do work out eventually! My online survey got a better response than I thought and I got to conduct some semi-structured interviews as well which was a new method for me and I really enjoyed developing the qualitative side of my research skills.
- Leadership – I really enhanced my leadership skills by managing various teams and collaborations effectively. Keeping everyone up-to-date, taking on advice and making executive decisions for my project.
- Adaptability – Life can throw many curve balls at you, whether that’s a minor barrier or a global pandemic. I learnt to adapt to situations by creating alternative plans through systematic methods and be patient when such situations occur.
- Time management – The work load involved in a PhD really hit me hard! There’s multiple things to be at one time so it’s imperative to develop strong time management skills! I learnt how to prioritise tasks and use the 80/20 rule to gain my outcomes!
- Project management – There’s loads of steps involved in a PhD but in the long run limited time. I created a Gantt chart outlining all the key milestones and when to reach them by. Key milestones on the first half of my PhD included project proposal, systematic review, data collection material and ethics approval!
- Don’t stress out about something before it’s even happened
- Be flexible and open minded to change
- New doors will open if you keep faith, patience and keep working hard