The second year blues is often something that you hear about in the first year of your PhD, but is difficult to fully grasp until it creeps up on you. It may not happen in your second year, but this seems to be the most common time that PhD students experience a dip. There are many blogs that have described this period in the PhD process, and for me, the most useful one is from The Thesis Whisperer. If you are feeling like everything is getting on top of you, just take a few minutes to read about ‘The Valley of Shit’, it will help. I’m not going to use this post to describe the second year blues using a clever analogy as it has been done many a time. For me, it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my work and that caused me to lose motivation and confidence. Any work I did wasn’t good enough in my eyes, even if my supervisors said it was. I just didn’t believe them. But the important thing to remember is that you won’t feel like this forever. The PhD process is fraught with highs and lows, and there are plenty of things that you can do to help you through the bad times.
Firstly, it is vital to look after your own health. Working long hours in the office takes its toll, and can often make you feel more stressed. This is because it takes longer for you to get work done because you are tired from working so many hours. It is counterproductive, and can be a vicious circle. Try not to work weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. Eat healthily, have a good amount of sleep, and do some exercise. Exercise is a great distraction from work, and gives your brain a rest. Make sure you also have time off. Treat the PhD like a 9-5 job because this means that you are allowed to have multiple holidays during the year. N.B. Fieldwork does not count as a holiday! Finally, talk to other PhD students around you. They may be going through something similar, or will have done in the past. Just knowing that you are not on your own can feel like a weight off your mind.
In terms of work, the way to get through is to keep ploughing on. It is common to feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall when you are doing a PhD, but something will change. You’ll find a paper you had missed that leads you onto a new line of research, or a landowner will finally get back to you with permission to access a vital field site. Don’t think about the project as a whole because this is overwhelming, focus on doing the little things. Lastly, remember that you are being paid to research a subject that you enjoy (unless you are self-funded, but that’s another story) and you are not working in a boring job that you hate where you have to be in work at specific hours.
A gust blog from Rachel Betson, a PhD student at Aberystwyth University.
The British Society for Geomorphology’s Windsor Workshop is an annual event held in the Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park. Its aim is to introduce first year PhD students to the world of academia and to prepare them for what to expect over the next three years.
The Cumberland Lodge was a wonderful place to stay with incredible views across the park and into Windsor (I’d recommend the walk up to the Copper Horse for a particularly stunning view – the image below does not do it justice). The rooms were great and the food was exceptional – 3 course meals, twice a day! This, along with the other entertainment on offer within the lodge made it the perfect location for a relaxed learning and working environment.
The view into Windsor from the Copper Horse
After an introductory session and evening meal (one thing learned quickly on the workshop is that all sessions were scheduled around food), the first session of the workshop was a discussion on the philosophy of science. Whilst this was a challenging initial topic (especially for 8.30pm on a Monday evening!), it ended up being a very interesting and thought provoking session.
The sessions in the following days ranged from learning how to code to creating an entire PhD project in an afternoon and then presenting the design for this project to the rest of the group – a task that ended up much less daunting than it originally sounded! There was also a session on computer modelling, which in itself was extremely varied (for example, one could simulate various CO2 scenarios or simulate a game of Tetris). We also had the chance to present our own PhD projects to small groups. This was a really helpful exercise as it allowed us to provide feedback to others and get feedback from students with a range of backgrounds and therefore with a range of viewpoints. Overall the workshops, lectures and seminars gave vital information for how to present both our research and ourselves to both peers and broader audiences.
As previous years have, I would really recommend any first year PhD student whose project involves geomorphology to attend the workshop. Not only because it provided a lot of technical training and interesting discussions, but also because it gave us a chance to discuss the more social side of a PhD and I quickly came to realise that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous about starting a PhD!
The BSG Research Sub-committee (RC), chaired by Professor Steve Darby (University of Southampton), met at the University of Leeds on Feb 13th, 2013, as part of its biannual cycle and I was invited to attend as a representative of the BSG Postgraduate Forum. The intention was to gain insight into the role of the RC as the decision-makers for the BSG Grants and Awards, the mechanics of this process and to seek clarification from the Committee on issues raised by BSG postgraduate members and subsequently relay this information back to all BSG PG’s.
Firstly, a number of important points relevant to all PG’s:
There are two BSG grant rounds per year, February and September
The next deadline is September 30th, 2013
There are two types of grant available to PG’s – Postgraduate Research Grants (up to £1000) and Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grants (up to £1000, or £250 for the BSG AGM)
The RC stronglyencourage applications from Postgraduates for these awards (but note comments below for advice on the best time to submit applications)
The Dick Chorley Medal and Award is given each year for the most significant, original publication by a Postgraduate (or 3 years from graduation)
Anyone is able to nominate candidates for the Chorley award (including self-nominations!) and the RC are keen to attract as many nominations as possible each year
Feedback from the RC
– The RC emphasised proposals are treated primarily on scientific merit, so it is the applicant’s responsibility to demonstrate this effectively from their respective branches of geomorphology. Further guidance regarding the evaluation procedure is available on the BSG website and all applicants are strongly encouraged to examine these in detail. It was also emphasised that each application is viewed independently of prior applications, whether successful or not, and indeed they encourage re-submission of unsuccessful applications.
– One important procedural change that affects PG grant submissions is that, with effect from the next round there will no longer be a requirement for two supporting statements (one from a Supervisor and one from a Head of Department). In future rounds, only a reference from each candidate’s Supervisor will be required. However, it is essential the supervisor’s reference explicitly confirms the registration status of the applicant and clearly states the source of any additional funds required to complete the proposed work. PGs should also be aware that it is their responsibility to ensure that supervisor’s upload their references into the grant application prior to the stated deadline – incomplete applications cannot be assessed.
– Efforts are on-going to improve the online application process as the RC is aware of some technical issues. The possibility of auto-generated emails to PG applicants to confirm receipt of the supervisor supporting statement will also be investigated.
– The Committee noted some Postgraduate Research Grant applications to the February round requested funds to support fieldwork comprising a core part of the PhD and they are concerned by this pathway. Instead, their preference is to support complementary avenues of research and I feel it is important to bring this to the attention of all PG’s.
– It is at the Committee’s discretion to split the annual budgeted funds across the two grant rounds. In the past the committee have tended to split their available funds equally between the two funding rounds, but at the February meeting it was noted that more applications tend to be received in February than September. The committee are monitoring demand closely to ensure that available funds are matched to patterns of demand from applicants
– It was noted that applicants to the Postgraduate Conference Attendance Grant in their 1st year may be more likely to receive financial support to attend the BSG AGM, whereas those in subsequent years, who have obtained more substantive data and a clear research pathway, will likely be able to put forward a stronger application to support attendance at international conferences.
– Professor Mark Bateman holds the role of Grants Award Officer which includes compiling the grant assessments from each RC member and informing applicants of the RC decisions and he highlighted his willingness to provide feedback in the cases of unsuccessful proposals.
– The 2013 BSG Annual General Meeting is being held at Royal Holloway University of London (9th – 11th September, 2013) and, following the great success of the Workshop held last year in Nottingham, a similar event will be run this year by Professor Steve Darby and Professor Phil Ashworth (ex-RC chair) on writing effective RCUK grant proposals. This is scheduled to take place on the Monday morning (Sept 9th) prior to the official opening of the conference and more information is available on the AGM website (http://www.geomorphology.org.uk/assets/agms/documents/bsg_nerc_workshop_2013.pdf). Professor Darby also stated he will make himself available to all BSG members during a pre-arranged timeslot to answer queries related to the BSG grant application procedures. Note that a ‘Meet the Editors’ session has been also proposed following the success of the Workshop last year.
I hope this information has been clear and has been of value to other PG’s, please do get in touch if there are any other queries you feel I may be able to answer.
BSG Postgraduate Forum member
School of Environmental Sciences
University of Liverpool firstname.lastname@example.org
+44 (0) 151 794 2858
We have recently tweeted a number of links to webpages for a selection of UK institutions advertising PhD Studentships for an October 2013 start. Assimilating these links into the single list below will hopefully be more user-friendly. Deadlines for application submissions are largely over the next few weeks, although some are before the end of January.
The Windsor Workshop is a 4 day meeting held at the spectacular Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Park by the British Society for Geomorphology. It’s designed for 1st year PhD students, such as I, who are still in the early stages of their projects and general academic life beyond undergrad.
On the first evening, the group talked about the philosophy of science, and how you can really know something is true. This is something I’ve always shied away from as a scientist, but if I’m going to defend my PhD in 3 years time then I need to start getting my head around it! It was a good introduction to the feel of the weekend, and put us all at ease with each other.
The following few days were spent in lectures and smaller group discussions and workshops, focussing on geomorphology as a discipline, and some more general discussions around PhDs as research projects. Modelling and experimentation sessions allowed us to explore the methodologies of our projects while a great lecture on academic publication showed us in real terms how the submission, peer-review and publication stages work in the real world!
The highlight of the workshop for me was the group task of planning a PhD completely outside your field of expertise. By the end of the session, a few of us knew more about a fictional project studying coral reefs in Egypt than our own research – a great reminder of the importance of planning and direction!
Reflecting back on a few days of good food, spectacular surroundings and great company, I would recommend the BSG workshop to any 1st year PhD students studying geomorphology as a great way to kickstart your project and hit the ground running.
See the attached PDF advertising the BSG Early-career Researcher Workshop at the BSG Annual Conference, Royal Holloway University of London which will run on 9 September 2013. The workshop this year will focus on writing strong grant proposals for NERC.