PhD – week 1

The first week of my PhD has certainly been a whirlwind, with a hugely positive experience getting started at The Open University happening alongside some very stressful work events.

The good

I was able to go to the OU Campus in Milton Keynes for the Graduate School Induction on 5 October, followed by the online WELS (Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies) Faculty Induction on 6 October. My overwhelming takeaway from both sessions was a feeling of support – that there are high expectations but all PGR (Post Graduate Researchers – that’s me!) are there because their research proposals show genuine promise, and the OU team believe we can fulfill that.

There was sincere joy from staff to be back on campus, and to be welcoming a new cohort. The enthusiasm was infectious, and I know I’m not the only new PGR who is excited to get started.

The key messages I’ve taken from the two days – as well as a whole lot of admin and acronyms – are:

  • The Graduate School and Faculty teams are there to support and cheer us on. Success, large or small, should be celebrated, and ‘failures’ are learning experiences. I, and I think all PGRs, have been inspired to take the same positive attitude towards each other.
  • “Don’t compare your inside to others outside.” This session really resonated with me – a reminder that everyone’s story is messy, however “shiny” our CV, LinkedIn profile or other professional faces are. It was particularly important as my story got messy last week (see more below).
  • The PhD will be tough, but it will also be exciting. Enjoy the challenge.
  • From Year 2 PhD students who were kind enough to share their insights – be organised, be part of the community, be brave!
  • Enjoy reading with impunity, particularly in the first few months. Again this resonated with me as, at 41, this is the first time I’ve been a full-time student (my BSc and MA were both completed while working full time). What a luxury I have to be able to prioritise the study that I love.
  • Make writing a habit to make sense of what you read. I enjoy writing and it certainly helps me organise my thoughts, so I will make an effort on this one.

The not so good

An early morning phone call on Friday 1 October resulted in this message being added to the Training-by-Eos (the tuition company that I co-founded and part own) website:

The heartbreak of first hearing quite shocking news and then having to cancel the tuition for our November Case Study students will stay with me for some time. We also had to let down global tuition partners that Training-by-Eos have worked with for many years. Although I am no longer a Director or equal owner it fell to me to take the lead on this, so it could at least be a controlled shut down. The Training-by-Eos office team were magnificent in identifying everyone who needed to know and communicating with them all; I’m truly grateful for their support.

What this all means for Training-by-Eos in the medium and longer term is not yet clear. My initial research proposal had Training-by-Eos students as a key part of my study, so there are potential implications there as well. I’m working hard to stay in charge of my inner planner, who wants to know EXACTLY WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT – keeping her calm (mostly with chocolate if I’m honest) and assuring her that SOMETHING will happen and we will make it work for us.

So that’s the end of Week 1 of my PhD – a week that has been awesome and inspiring as well as heartbreaking and, quite frankly, shit, often in the same half hour. This ride will calm down next week – right?

Published by sarahjalcock

PhD researcher at the Open University with a focus on Learning Analytics, Learning Analytics Dashboards, feedback and Self Regulated Learning. Follow me on Twitter @SarahAlcock19. Author text is licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

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