The PhD files: the interview and the very early days

Last week, I told you about how I decided to apply for PhD study, and how I went about getting the ball rolling. This week, as promised, we will talk about my experience of the interview, and what I did once I had the go-ahead.

As you may remember, I had previously emailed a professor, and she had suggested I go for an interview to discuss my ideas for a potential project. Suddenly, everything was getting excitingly real. No longer were my ideas only in my head, I was getting ready to put them out there, to somebody who was really interested. In the days leading up to the interview, I put together my thoughts, taking note of what I might like to research and the books that might help me. my plans were all pretty rudimentary, but that was the fun of it. It left open plenty of opportunities for exploration. The day arrived. It was interview time. I was, understandably, a little nervous, but as is often the way with these things, I needn’t have been. The two people in the room turned out to be my (eventual) primary and secondary supervisors, and the interview turned into a really interesting and (dare I say it) fun chat. If anything, their enthusiasm for my ideas convinced me even more (as I’ve already said, when I’m on my soap-box, I’m on my soap-box) and I knew that I’d made the right decision. If I could give any advice here, it would be to try to remember that you’re not on trial. If you can (and I know, it’s much easier said than done), try not to see this as a big, scary interview, but rather a chance to share your thoughts and ideas. When they see how enthusiastic you are, I promise you, they will be, too.

After an hour or so, the ‘interview’ came to an end, and to my absolute delight, my supervisor told me that she would be happy for me to turn my ideas into a real-life thesis. To say I left her office happy would be a huge understatement. I was delighted. It was real, and I was actually going to do it. It might sound like a huge cliché (because it is, sorry), but as I walked down the driveway, I could have been walking on air. A few days, and some back and forth admin later, it was time for the hard work to begin in earnest. And begin it did.

If you’ve ever been at the start of any big project, you’ll know how it feels. Mainly, you’re excited. It’s Day One and it’s all laid out before you. Anything is possible. It’s usually also about that moment that it hits you. It isn’t just an idea anymore, it’s real, and you need to get going. As you can imagine with a literature degree of any kind, reading a ton of books, chapters, and journal articles is going to feature pretty heavily. Throw into the mix the fact that you’re starting out with an idea that’s going to change shape pretty much every time you read something new, and things can get confusing if you let them (and believe me, sometimes I let them). Luckily, my supervisor had given me some suggestions for preliminary books that might be a good place to start, so I listened, and I read. I think the biggest piece of advice I could give for the very early days and weeks of your research would be to start reading around your topic as much as you can. Don’t worry, and don’t panic. Just read and start taking plenty of notes. Also, listen. Listen to your supervisor. They are there to help you.

So, there I was. Armed with the wonderful novels of Elizabeth Gaskell to re-read, and plenty of her other writing to discover for the first time, I had more than enough to keep me occupied, and to get the ideas flowing. I also had a pile of critical bits and pieces so I could see what others had already said, and think about how I might engage with them. Now, I’m aware this makes it sound like I had everything sorted, and knew exactly what I was doing. Believe me when I say that couldn’t be further from the truth (as I’m sure will be made apparent in future blogs). The good news is, you don’t need to have it all figured out, you just need to start getting stuck in, reading what looks good and takes your fancy. It also meant I could start thinking about creating my ‘Magnificent Planning Chart’ while working out my first important tick on the to-do chart, the literature review. But that (amongst other things) is for next week.

If you are just starting out on your PhD journey, or if you have some words of wisdom to share, I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to populate the comment section! See you next week.

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