Hi everyone! I am a new poster here, and could do with some sage advice. I am just about to start a PhD at a University in the North East of England, yet before I have even typed a word of it I feel pretty downbeat. In terms of academic standing it is worse than my previous Uni (Redbrick Uni in North-West) where I gained my BA in History and MA in Cultural History (both first class). Now, I had chances to remain at that aformentioned Uni to do my PhD, and although initially I was very keen, due to a lack of funding and also a split with my then long-term girlfriend I thought I would give education a break for a year to see what would come up.
In hindsight perhaps a bad idea, I was unemployed for three months after handing in my MA dissertation (I had sinced moved back home), I then managed to get some temp work back in the North West which was also interspersed with a bit of travelling in Borneo/Malaysia. On my return from travelling I was a bit dissapointed with the amount of funding and number of studentships on offer - a shared feeling, I'm sure. At this time I had a few ideas for a PhD project - I have after all, covered a lot of ground in both degrees. I saw a studentship offered (at NE Uni I am now at) with a good yearly stipend, and although the subject matter was quite different to what I have previously written about (more of a media and communications PhD than a history one), I managed to 'bend' my research interests (sexuality, gender studies) to fit the criteria and flesh out a proposal.
To my suprise it was well greeted by the department and I was offered the studentship by the panel. In the meantime I was also applying for a PhD at my old uni (as well as some others). And again, I was offered a place by my old department but again it was unclear whether I would again be able to get any funding. There was a bit of an impasse where I was not sure quite what to do - better supervision or actual money and a fresh start in a new city? I chose the latter as I could simply not afford to self-fund a PhD and with the recent split with my girlfriend I felt like getting away from the NW.
Now I am in the NE I am having my doubts. The place does not feel home to me yet. There is no PG accommodation at this Uni so I am forced to live with 5 freshers. Apart from one, they all seem v young and immature (that is something coming from me) as well as distrustful of me as a PhD student. They don't seem to understand the concept of a PhD studentship and it is frustrating trying to explain over and over why I am actually here. (I keep getting asked my 'A' level results ffs!)
I don't actually enrol until this Fri and hopefully things will thereon improve - I get my own desk to work at, and hopefully I will make friends within the PG community which seems fairly large. I just can't escape the feeling of isolation that is already setting in. Two main worries: did I make the right uni choice, have I turned my back on history as a subject?
I feel the same way, and feel bad for having doubts. I'm fully funded and should be so happy, but instead I am worried I will become isolated, that my topic is too far from what I initially intended to do etc. etc. I guess it will get better as soon as things get started, don't worry. I suggest you submit abstracts and go on conferences. Hopefully that will keep you inspired and will make you meet new people!
You're not alone: I had a similar dilemma, and went for the fully funded route, albeit in an environment that enjoys less overall prestige, - but within a small pocket of exellence in my chosen field. I don't have the added complications of living with undergrads, (don't envy you that one), but I expect I'll feel pretty isolated, as I'm based at home, and therefore fairly detached from the university culture. I've accepted that this scenario is still on balance, the best available to me. Despite having the customary newbie fear that I may have over-reached myself in terms of the topic, I'm going to give it my best. It's early days, and I suggest that you give yourself the opportunity to make an informed choice, rather than walking away before you've even started. You'll have more on which to base your decision in a few months time.
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Hello fellow newbies! Guess we're all in it together - I'm anxious too. I think we'd be a bit crazy not to be whilst standing at the bottom of the mountain.
The only thing I'd be looking to change in your position is the housing situation tbh. New undergrads are bound to have different priorities and need time to learn stuff like living away from home... Can you look into housing with other postgrads or even professionals (might be worth the council tax share)? You can usually get out of a contract before it's up.
Everything else sounds great. Imo it's very healthy to experience a different institution's way of doing things. And of course you haven't given up on history! Just bending its terms. Good luck (up)
Thanks for your replies everyone. I don't have any intention of walking away - that would be pretty foolish since I haven't even properly started. After getting the original offer from my uni I was really happy. It may just be the dire social situation (living with freshers and in a tiny room) may be getting the better of me. Probably need to face the fact that I am here primarily to work, and my social life will have to take a back seat for the next few years. Once I enrol and start cracking on with my thesis I am hoping there will be a bit more structure to my day. I do have a mate from my old uni who is now living in the same city: we are meeting up Wednesday for drinks, so its not all bad. Just would be nice if I was sharing a flat with some like-minded people.
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I've had many worries and doubts too. Will I be good enough? Will I be able to overcome my chronic condition know as procrastination? Am I doing the right thing given the apparently dire employment prospects at the end? Will I enjoy my new city where I don't know a single person and which is very different from home? And so on...
I've just come out of one of many freak-outs I've had over the last few weeks and months. I'm calm now and excited about starting. I move tomorrow and start on Friday.
Sorry I have no helpful advice but we're all in this together (high school musical anyone...?) and good luck to all!
Again, thanks for all your posts. Bleebles you are right, 'dire' is too strong at this early stage. I hope I will get on with all my flatmates, and like I did, I am sure they will mature as the year unfolds.
Problem is I moved in after everybody else as I was away on holiday, and I kind of feel I have missed out on the 'bonding' process. I am not really bothered about rowdiness/noise as it is to be expected from freshers, it is just from my initial impressions they do not seem like my kind of people - ranging from obnoxious to over-sensitive.
It is in big contrast to my first year as an UG where I felt I made lots of friends with relative ease. I'm only 24 and I am up for some fun, it just seems much more of a struggle this time round.
Perhaps this is what is frustrating me more than anything, and maybe why I am viewing my PhD in such a negative light.
Once I get to work I'm hoping I will stop being such a miserable sod :-)
As someone who has recently very reluctantly moved away from the North East for a job elsewhere I just wanted to say I'm sure you'll grow to love it in time - it is a wonderful area and people are so friendly! I'm sure you don't want to give your anonymity away by saying exactly where you are but here are my suggestions for things to do to get away from your tiny room and the freshers - I think I've covered all the university towns in the NE!
Newcastle/Northumbria: Laing gallery and Baltic gallery are both free and often have great exhibitions (Laing often has things related to Newcastle, while the Baltic is uber modern); Hancock museum behind Newcastle Uni is also free and has tons of cultural and historical artifacts from the region; Metro centre if you like shopping (although you can't get there on the metro, which is a bit confusing - use the train/bus); take the metro to Tynemouth and go to the beach, there is a big flea market in the station at weekends (or the fab second hand book shop in North Shields called Keel Row); Bede's World (anglo saxon theme village!); there is also a big gym in the top of Eldon Square (the shopping centre in town) which is run by the council and really cheap for students, which does lots of classes, rock climbing, all sorts.
Durham: 10 mins on the train to Newcastle so all of the above; castle and cathedral (tours of both available); Crook Hall - kinda chintzy stately home; Botanic gardens (up near Collingwood college); hire those little rowing boats and take to the river!
Sunderland: take the metro to Newcastle, as above; Museum and winter gardens; Washington Old Hall (National trust); i think there's an art gallery as well? (Sunderland's not my strong point) and if you can get to Hartlepool there is a maritime museum with a big old boat (history not my strong point either!) and some entertaining animatronic displays of ye olde sailors.
Middlesbrough: MIMA (Middlesborough institute for modern art) and the Dorman museum (regional history) are both good; Ormesby hall (National trust); there are some public parks in town as well.
I would say - get out, keep yourself occupied (it might also give you something to talk about with the freshers) and don't expect it to feel like home too soon. I do agree that finding a shared house with some postgrads or young professionals would be better but maybe wait until you've met the other postgrads - there are undoubtedly other people in the same position as you.
As to whether you've turned your back on history - well, I did a degree in politics, then an interdisicplinary PhD, and now I work in a geography department. I wouldn't say my research interests have really changed, it's just that different aspects are emphasised to fit different requirements. If you feel strongly that you want to go back into a history department after your PhD then try to ensure at least one publication in a 'proper' history journal and keep up with conferences in the field. But I would say at this stage, keep an open mind because the best jobs aren't always where you think they're going to be! Also with regards to your new uni being a 'step down' - i think every time people move universities it is natural to consider whether it's a step up or down, but far and away the most important thing it hte research community you're going into. I moved from a university deemed very good by the outside world but where our degree programme was shockingly mismanaged and not one member of staff could even be bothered to write me a reference for my PhD application! But the place I went as a postgrad was the total opposite - small, tight knit community of supportive people with a passion for the subject.
Give it time and try not to worry about the living situation - it'll sort itself out. And good luck!
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