Current PhD students - I have lots of questions for you!



I'm new to posting on this forum but have enjoyed reading posts here for some time. I thought I would sign up as I have some questions to ask!

I found out on Friday that I have just been accepted to do a PhD in Psychology and I am going to be fully funded (fees + maintenance stipend). I'm absolutely delighted and cannot wait to begin in October. I'm currently studying for a Masters, and have a number of questions for those of you here that are already studying for your PhDs. I'd really appreciate some different viewpoints and opinions on the questions below!

1. Do you tend to work from an office in your department, or do you work from home? Having never had a workspace for myself in a department before, I have usually worked from home whilst at university because I find the communal spaces (libraries and computer rooms) a bit noisy and distracting. What's it like to share an office with other PhD students, do you find it easier to work?

2. How many hours a day / week do you spend working on your PhD? I'm expecting it to be similar to a full-time job (and more hours a lot of the time!). I'm sure it depends on the stage of the PhD you are at, and the sort of work you are doing, but I'd be really interested to know your own experiences.

3. How do you find your teaching responsibilities (if you have any)? My scholarship comes with some teaching and teaching-related duties attached (mostly giving seminars, marking and personal supervision for undergrads). I gained some teaching experience when I worked in a secondary school for some time between my undergraduate degree and my Masters, but obviously, teaching a class of thirty 14-year-olds is going to be rather different! I'd really like to hear experiences and advice from PhD students with undergraduate teaching duties.

4. How much does your project change in scope over the first year? For my funding application, I had to write a fairly detailed proposal, but I'd like to know, in reality, how much the proposal is stuck to. Do you find the shape or content of your PhD changes much, or does it stick fairly closely to the original plan?

5. If you moved cities to do a PhD, when did you find somewhere to live, and what sources did you use to find housing? I'm going to move at the end of my Masters, and I was wondering when people arranged housing. I know as an undergraduate, everyone arranged housing very early on, do people do this when they move to study as a postgrad, or do they arrange it nearer the time? I'm not really looking for "student accommodation" of the sort I lived in as an undergraduate. I also wondered where people typically looked for housing in cities they don't live in - at the moment, I can think of RightMove, Gumtree, and the private sector housing list produced by the university. These are the places I have looked before when moving to a new city. Anyone else have any advice on house hunting?

Gosh, that's a lot of questions. If anyone can help by sharing their expe


Oops, the formatting for this post has gone horrible and it won't seem to let me edit it either - sorry! I couldn't work out how to get it to put spaces between paragraphs in. If you can still read it as a horrible blocky chunk of text, I commend you!


1. home alot but imo it’s good to make sure you show your face in the office so you don’t get forgotton
2. like a full time job, but bearing in mind that in a full time job you are unproductive lots of the time. Imo people beat themselves up if they don’t do a productive 7 hours a day (and more), which is unrealistic. And I don’t switch off much, thinking about it most of the time, but that is impossible to quantify
3. fine but i don’t have much. takes and age to prepare a single lecture as i want it to be perfect!
4. masses. my proposal makes me laugh now at how little i knew
5. i have my own house and didn’t move, but if i was i wouldn’t use the uni at all. i’d do it like any move and find an area i wanted to live in, visit estate agents, websites, post office windows etc. but then i am older so am not the least bit interested in reliving my ‘student years’
(apologies for lack of caps. my cat decided to sit on my wrist which is very inhibiting.)


1. As I did a lab based project I lived there! It's good to come in so people don't forget you and you can socialise a bit. The office isn't probably the best place to work if you get distracted easily as there will be usually lots of people sharing a room! It's good to have a sense of community as it can get a bit lonely doing your research by yourself as PhDs are individual things!
2. All the time - I had an enormous amount of labwork to do and not enough time to do it. I often didn't have time to do much else and definitely not enough time to catch up with everything I was supposed to be doing as well!
3. There wasn't too much on offer in our dept but I did get to do some demonstrating!
4. Oh yeah it changed! The basic idea didn't change but I had many problems so had to keep adapting what I was doing and new opportunities came along which I took advantage of so what I ended up doing and what I was supposed to be doing is quite different! You have to be flexible as things don't often work out the way you think/want them to!
5. If you've been out of student halls/accommodation for a while don't move back into them! There is a time and a place for them as an undergrad/MSc student it's great but as a PhD student I wouldn't really recommend it! You really need your own space and somewhere where you feel comfortable! Having said that it's difficult to meet people when you first go to a place esp if you are working all the time so maybe use them in your 1st year and hope you get good flat/housemates! But if you can try to get somewhere decent to help you unwind or if you work at home somewhere where you can feel productive! PhDs are hard enough without having domestic problems with your living arrangements!

Good luck! (up)


You should probably ask your supervior if they have any general policy/strong feelings about working from home vs the office. I know in my dept it is preferred for you to work in the dept and be 'visible'. I work mainly from home though - my child being my main excuse. It is easier to work at home but you can easily become very isolated. At the least - have some core regular hours in the dept such as those leading up to regular seminars.

I had also taught teenagers before and althoug it is different it is actually good preparation. You will not be phased or shocked by apparent boredom or occaisional misbehaviour and have some idea how to hold a groups attention and make things understandable. The prep for this level of teaching can be very heavy though. Google and wiki are great help!

My project is part psychology based. The basic project hasn't changed but some of the details have changed a lot and although I have, astonishingly, found exactly what I was looking for I did not find it in the way I originally intended and for a long time thought I had a mountain of meaningless data that was quite dispiriting after what was frankly a very tough slog. But all's well that end's well ;-)

Just wish it would end a bit more quickly as I'm into my fourth (unfunded) year.

The world and it's dog will be looking for accommodation in October so you might want to look a bit earlier if you can - but I'm not much help as I live here apart from being a student so haven't done that for a long time. If there's a graduate union or tother hang-out they will probably have accommodation notices - I once got a very nice houseshare that way. Sometimes people specifiy graduate rather than undergraduates in the (mistaken) belief that their relatively better quality property is less likely to be trashed by wild parties.

Hours for me are complicated - I just work when I can which is not full-time. Many depts seem to have a 'working culture' where it becomes the norm to work a certain number of hours.


Just a note on the question of Halls below, I'm a PhD student, admittedly stragiht out of Masters which was straigjt after Bsc which was straight out of high school. I am in a Hall, and will be in a Hall for the next 2 yrs. It's a simple thing for me:

1. I am overseas, have no money, exorbitant tuitions.
2. Halls include everything for bills (total 450 a month), a single room, space, a fridge, a toilet all of my own
3. It's definitely not the best way to live at 24.
4. I am here to do a fast PhD, get a great CV, work my behind off and leave in 2011 October.

I considered if it was worth it to get a studio or flat etc. Then i realised, I dont have the money to pay for it. And second, even if I get money this yr, from schols or RA ships, I'm going to save it.

It's a mindset issue, do what makes you comfortable.


1. I work at home most of the time (as my home is in a different country to the uni!) but I go into uni regularly for a few months at a time. I find it difficult to work there as the study room is next to a film studies class and you can tell exactly what they are watching (in fact you can hear every word - last time it was Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs followed by Psycho :-s ) so I prefer to study at home anyway.
2. Sort of full time but at odd hours around child care!
3. Don't have them - yippee! Have been a teacher for the last 12 years - am enjoying the break.
4. It has changed a lot - I am amazed they took me on as when I reread my proposal it is obvious that I don't know what I am talking about!
5. n/a


1. Half and half. Nobody in my department really knows if I'm in the office or not, because I share with 2 people in different research groups (and one girl is never there anyway so mostly there's just 2 of us in the office!). But a few days a week I have to be for some appointment or other, so I'll work at uni. It totally depends on your department ans supervisor though- I know some students who are expected in every day, and others who don't have their own office and so work exclusively from home.

2. I try usually do a 7 hour day. Occasionally it is less and (rarely!) I will do a bit more. I do tend to beat myself up about it if I'm unproductive though, but I think the main thing is to have a good routine and treat it like a full time job.

3. I do some extra teaching hours which has been fine. I'd say that while you need to make sure you are prepared, don't spend too much tme overpreparing and letting this interfere with your research.

4. At my first supevision meeting my supervisor told me that I am going to end up doing a PhD which will be very different to how I originally imagined it. I think all PhDs are like this, but it is particulary true for my area (conversation analysis) and my supevisor doesn't even want me to do too much of a literature review during my first year, as I could end up focussing on a completely different topic to what I think I may do now.

5. I moved and rent a place with my boyfriend. I know lots of people in halls or hared houses with other postgrads so I feel really fortunate in this respect! I think sites like Gumtree are good for finding houseshares with other postgrads.


Hi everyone, thank you so much for these replies and for reading my post - it's been tremendously helpful to hear of everyone's different experiences, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. It's so great to have these forums to read for a taste of what a PhD is actually like, instead of just reading about it on university websites and relying on what they tell you!