Preparing to start a PhD

In just over 6 weeks, I’m leaving my job as a research technician to begin my PhD at Exeter. Eeek!

I’ve done a few things in preparation:

  • I’ve secured a room in Exeter. I am still going to live in Bristol most of the time (we have a lovely apartment, I love the city, and my partner works nearby), but I have been lucky enough to find someone through Spare Room who will rent a room to me cheaply for 2 nights a week. This minimises how often I have to commute, as I know how stressful and exhausting I would find commuting 2 hours door to door each way every day.
  • I’ve bought a student rail card to reduce my commuting costs. If you book train tickets at least a week in advance and at off-peak times, it is also dramatically cheaper, so I’m hoping that’ll be my main method of reaching Exeter. I hate the rail system in the UK, but miraculously, it will actually be cheaper than driving (unless I don’t book my tickets in advance).
  • I’ve opened a student bank account (I recommend HSBC, as you get an interest-free overdraft, a £60 Amazon voucher and a year of Amazon prime!)
  • As you don’t really earn the ‘big bucks’ whilst on a PhD, I’m trying really hard to budget more before I begin so that I’m already used to living within my means. It is difficult, but I am gradually getting used to not having that extra drink!
  • I’ve been reading ‘How to get a PhD‘. It’s quite basic, but some of it has still been useful. Because I’ve worked within a University alongside PhD students for the past year and a half, I think I already have a pretty good understanding of what it’s like to study for a PhD. However, I know that all PhDs are different, so my expectations could be completely wrong!
  • I’ve joined the relevant postgraduate Facebook pages so I can keep up to date with events or information that may be useful.
  • I’m starting to gather a few bits together; for example, I think it’ll be important to have a decent laptop backpack for my long commutes. That Amazon voucher from HSBC will definitely come in handy!
  • I’m reading around the subject of my PhD and making a few notes. I haven’t had time to do a dramatic amount as I’m still juggling my full time job and my tutoring job, but I think even a bit of reading is probably useful.
  • I’m printing relevant papers I come across and filing them ready for when I have to begin my literature review.
  • I’ve re-downloaded Mendeley. It’s basically an organised library for research papers, and I found it extremely useful during my BSc. I really recommend using this or something similar, it has saved me so much time!
  • I’ve bought a (pretty) diary to keep me organised. I do also use Google calendar, but there’s just something nice about having a physical one.
  • If I didn’t already have an NUS card (as I work at Bristol Uni I’m entitled to one, I’ve basically had student discount for my entire adult life so far…), this would have been another thing I absolutely would have sorted. It is so worth paying for, I’ve saved hundreds of pounds by using mine!

Hopefully these little things will make the transition to Exeter easier! I’d love to hear what other people recommend doing when preparing for a PhD, please comment/share this post if you’ve got any ideas.



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