The only way out is through (part 2)

Sara Corpino is a distance learning PGR in the Department of Modern Languages and, following on from the first part of this post, she gives her tips on how to overcome difficulties and get through a distance learning PhD.

Residential event

Broad Street tunnel, Birmingham
Photo credit: Parrot of Doom

Many distance PhD students in the College of Arts and Law start their experience with the residential event. During the residential you meet the other distance PhD students and have the chance to share your thoughts, impressions, and opinions with them. The UoB campus is amazingly huge, and you can notice students from all over the world attending the event. I loved spending time in a multicultural environment. During your first residential, you also normally meet your supervisor(s) for the very first time and make a planning for the upcoming months. After my first residential, I came home full of enthusiasm and looking forward to starting to work on my research.

Academic support

In my previous post, I have mentioned the difficulties a student can meet in reaching the academic writing standards in English. This may be not because of the level of English, but because the language used to write a thesis is certainly different from the one that we normally use. If you are in the College of Arts and Law, you can access the Academic Writing Advisory Service, which is extremely useful for those who struggle with their academic writing. With only a half-an-hour session you can receive some life saving tips, allowing you to considerably improve your writing.

For International PGRs not in CAL, please see the Birmingham International Academy for academic writing support.  All PGRs can access academic writing workshops from the Research Skills Team in Library Services, and receive detailed discipline-specific academic writing advice from your supervisor(s).

How to cope with the difficulties given by the distance?

Doing a distance PhD is not easy at all. The main difficulty you will encounter is not being on campus and so not being able to meet other academics, such as other students and your supervisor(s). It seems little, but it means a lot. There are many sessions proposed by the University, which help to compensate the distance between students and the campus. Also, having a consistent contact with your supervisor(s) constitutes a great psychological and practical support. Establishing a good relationship with the students you meet during the residential and keeping in touch periodically, is a good way of feeling part of the university.

Only you and your thesis

As a distance learner, you may feel alone, and you actually – sad to say – are. When you are writing your thesis in your room or in a local library, it will be only you and the screen of your computer. This may seem scary, and from one side, it is. From another point of view this could help to better focus on your thesis, taking the lonely moments as a shelter from the frenetic life. It is a bit poetic vision of the PhD, and it helps to see the thesis writing as a relaxing moment, in order to feel better about it and be as much productive as possible.

At the end of the day…

In these two posts, I have listed some difficulties typical of a (distance) PhD and tried to give some advice. My conclusion is that even though doing a distance PhD may be a challenging experience, at the end of the day it is also a rewarding and exciting adventure.

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