My first year as a PhD student at the University of Manchester is over, and the end of this year has brought about mixed feelings. I am very pleased to finish my first year successfully and develop myself as a researcher in many ways. On the other hand, the clock is ticking, and my workload will mount up in the next year as I have plans to write for publication and I need to start to draft my thesis chapters soon. Actually, being a PhD student often entails mixed feelings. Luckily, the fleetingness of time usually goes hand in hand with increase in ambition. Here are some of the highlights of my pleasant experiences as a first year PhD student:
- A sense of community: Before coming to the UK, I was worried about loneliness that PhD students could experience. However, after a short time, I realised that my worries were in vain. At The University of Manchester, PhD students have quite a few communities in which we exchange ideas and support each other. The Postgraduate Research Support Network Sessions and the Doctoral Community@LTE helped me a great deal to get accustomed to a new academic environment and receive very useful guidance and tips from my peers and more senior students. In addition to getting various insights into others’ PhD experiences, these networks enabled us to build bonds of friendship with our peers.
- Development of intercultural competence: If you are studying abroad, you are more likely to get out of your comfort zone and communicate with other people from diverse backgrounds that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. The University of Manchester is an ideal place to improve my intercultural competence since it welcomes more international students every year than any other university in the UK. I am making every effort to maximise my intercultural understanding in a unique community of different cultures. I have realised that developing interculturality has influenced my cultural self-awareness in that I interpret my own cultural background from several perspectives in a more conscious way. Given that intercultural competence is a key skill in the 21st century, my suggestion for all the new students, especially undergraduate home students would be to mix with people from different backgrounds as much as possible.
- Research diary: I kept an informal research diary for myself in order to keep track of my development as a researcher. I have realised that it is a great way of doing an honest self-assessment of where you are. I have just read what I noted down at the beginning of the first semester. In the first few supervision meetings, the questions that I asked my supervisor were so basic that I cannot believe now that I did ask them. My research diary is an excellent representation of my research journey, and realising my own personal development considerably increases my motivation and self-confidence.
- Teaching: I had the opportunity to deliver tutorials to the first year undergraduate students and gain experience in small group teaching. The dynamics of small group teaching are much more different in the UK Higher Education context from those of large lectures at Turkish universities. Before every tutorial, I made a point-by-point lesson plan in which I wrote which questions I would ask them, what I would say, what I would focus on, etc. I even prepared some jokes and wrote them in my lesson plan! All the courses that I took during my BA and MA in relation to teaching methodology and approaches to teaching as well as my previous lesson plans came in handy this time. This experience as a graduate teaching assistant helped me to encode the academic culture which is again rather different from our academic culture in Turkey.
I am glad that I have managed to focus on these aspects in my first year. Apart from these positive experiences, there are some aspects that create tension for me. In my PhD journey, I refer to these tensions as ‘faultlines’:
- Routine: Following a routine is generally recommended by lecturers and more senior students. On the Thesis Whisperer’s Blog, it is one of the five things to do in our first year, indeed. It is suggested that treating PhD like a job and getting into a routine will help us later on. I haven’t even tried to follow a routine, and I feel a little guilty about it! In fact, my PhD is more than a job to me, so I do not find a 9-5 schedule feasible for me to achieve my goals. Although I will try to get into a kind of routine to see how it works for me, I enjoy my own ‘routineless routine’ at the moment.
- Internal and external pressures: People I know (family, friends, PhD colleagues, etc.) generally consider me as a good student. You could think that it is brilliant! Even though I appreciate that they have faith in me, this sometimes puts extra pressure on me. I also have confidence in me, but external pressure seems to affect my internal pressure in a negative way. Therefore, the thought of disappointing people is the other ‘faultline’ for me. Next year, I will be regularly doing Tai Chi to ease these pressures.
Apart from these two ‘faultlines’ that my inner self created, I greatly enjoy being a PhD student at The University of Manchester. I hope that I will remain persistent and optimistic enough to have a pleasant PhD journey in the next year, too!