The thesis is not enough… (part 1)

The pressure of submitting a thesis might be overwhelming and some PGRs might feel guilty about spending time on social or other activities. In this two-part post, Shana Gander-Zaucker, a current PGR in Psychology, explores these matters in greater detail and shares her experience of being involved in other aspects of University life.

When starting my PhD at the University of Birmingham I remember going to a Careers Network event during which one of the attendees stated: “try to gain as much experience as you can in different fields at the University while doing your PhD as it will help you obtain a job afterwards”.

Shana Gander-Zaucker RPC 2016
Shana presenting her poster at the RPC 2016

My first reaction to this was a feeling of slight anxiousness as I felt a little overwhelmed by just beginning a PhD and I didn’t want to add more to my so-called ‘to-do list’. However, since then I have obtained some work experience in different capacities and have been involved in a variety of social activities. They have greatly helped me in my development as a researcher. In this post I will talk about how focusing on more than only your thesis could help you not only while you are doing your PhD, but also afterwards. So what types of roles have I been involved in? Well, they have been varied. However, while reading this you should recognize that this is not a comprehensive list and that each PhD journey will be different with its own valuable and unique opportunities.  

Teaching

While doing a PhD it may be important to gain some teaching experience, as it can help boost your CV and you will probably even earn some money while doing it. At least these were my reasons for doing a variety of teaching assistant posts. Before you teach you can even take some of the courses the University provides to help you prepare for the role. If you don’t have opportunities to teach you can apply for PGR-led activity funding to do activities in fields you are an expert in and share your knowledge with your colleagues.

Presenting Your Research

And for those of you who are contemplating whether or not to present at a conference? One of the top things I have learned so far as a PhD student is that it is important to present at a conference and do so as much as possible. It is a great way to: promote your hard work; learn how to communicate your research and its impact to an audience with different expertise; network with fellow researchers; obtain some feedback about your research; and improve your public engagement skills. For those of you who are at the beginning of your PhD road and don’t have any data or very little of it, my advice for you is still to go and present your research. I remember that when I was contemplating whether or not to present my poster at the Research Poster Conference 2016 at the University of Birmingham I did not feel ready to do so, but then a friend of mine at my office who was at that time in the third year of her PhD said: “do it! You have nothing to lose!” Even though I was still rather worried about it as I had no results in my hand yet and it was my first big poster conference, I followed her suggestion and did it. I ended up winning the first prize of Overall Winner Achievement Award category, which I was very excited about. One can say I went into the conference and also left it both slightly shaking, but just for two very different reasons.

In part 2, I’ll explore my experience in wider non-research-related activities.  What research-related activities have you been involved with during your research programme?  How have they benefitted you?

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