I survived my first week as a PhD student

Well, I’ve got through the first week… and I’ve not emigrated to the other side of the world, so that must be a good sign!

I really didn’t know what to expect as a PhD student. Last Sunday evening, I was nervous (as you would be for any new chapter in your life), but equally excited for the challenges and opportunities ahead. What I wasn’t expecting were the overwhelming feelings of guilt and anxiety. I felt like I was drowning, and completely out of my depth.

I’ve since been ‘diagnosed’ with imposter syndrome. Honestly! I’ve been assured that most PhD students feel like this during the early days, and often right through their PhD candidature. James Hayton’s website has been invaluable this week, as I begin to change my mindset and way of thinking.

Imposter syndrome can be defined as: “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

Everyone has different reasons for why they choose to start a PhD. Some have their hearts set on a career in academia; others wish to launch themselves into the world of industry. There’s a variety of other reasons too. For me, my reasons were slightly different. Although I feel that my career is within the health and science arena, my decision to begin a PhD was driven by my frustration with our healthcare system and the significant lack of support for people with ill health. Particularly, through personal experiences, I wanted to make a difference to the millions of children and young people living with long-term conditions. I want to make a real difference to people, and although this motivation will help me through the next few years, I’m not a superhuman robot. My supervisor reminded me that:

“You can’t change the entire world. However, you can change a small part of the world in a very good way.”

I keep reminding myself of this. Along with three wonderful supervisors and a great postgraduate research network, I now feel ready to take on the challenge. It’s quite exciting to think that I’m the ‘only’ person in the world working on this specific research question – and hopefully in three years time, I’ll have some of the answers to that question.

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The Baines Wing at the University of Leeds will be my ‘PhD base’ for the next few years – what a beautiful place!

My first week was slightly less enjoyable thanks to picking up a sinus infection – the joys of being immunosuppressed. I was feeling pretty rough, and I think this can always cloud your judgement and outlook. The antibiotics and antiemetics now seem to be working – so that’s welcomed news!

The first week was filled with induction meetings, networking with fellow postgraduate researchers, finding my way around campus, working out a broad research plan and identifying my training needs. Given that my background is in biomedical sciences and patient and public involvement in research, I’m rather unfamiliar with many principles of health psychology and medical sociology – but that’s okay. You’re not supposed to be an expert at the start of your PhD. This is where my training plan will help to fill these gaps, to shape me into an independent researcher. Next week, I begin a course on qualitative research methods, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll also be emptying the library shelves as I brush up on research methods!

“A PhD will completely change your life. I can’t describe how, but it will.”

If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. With this mindset, and a new focus, let’s do this. This PhD is a big life change, and it’s pretty scary. But, do you know what’s even scarier? Regret.

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