Last summer, after months of emailing back and forth with my supervisor, I received an official email from the University of Glasgow. The first sentence I read made me very happy (“I am delighted to inform you that the University of Glasgow is making you an unconditional offer of a place as a research student”), the second sentence was met with panic. Because there it was, printed in firm black letters, accompanied by the logo of the UofG: “Programme of Study: PhD in Sociology (Research)”. Sociology! I was now officially transferring from the oh-so familiar Humanities to the unknown Social Sciences.
In the first weeks, when people asked me to explain my topic, I always felt the need to add that I was completely new to Sociology and had no idea what I was doing. I studied History at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and, as described on this blog, it’s not uncommon for PhD students to feel like an imposter. However, there are ways to help you deal with that. I am now starting to feel at home in the Social Sciences. In this blog post I will give you an overview of the College and share what helped me to get started as a PGR. With these tips, I hope you can start confidently!
Introducing the schools
After I unpacked my bags, received the key to the Adam Smith Building and was assigned a desk in a shared office, the first thing I did was investigate how the College of Social Sciences was organised. Luckily, several induction events were planned and the PGR conveners were very helpful in providing all the necessary information. Before you start your research, it is important that you understand your position as a PGR student within the College and the University. Not only will this help you reach the right people when you have questions, it will also make you feel part of a community and understand how the different research areas are related. Therefore, I suggest that you investigate the School to which your research project belongs and look for academics, research groups, seminar series, blogs and interesting events for your project as soon as you start.
The College of Social Sciences is divided into different research schools, which in turn have several subject areas.
- The Adam Smith Business School offers PGR opportunities in Accounting & Finance, Economics, and Management.
- Secondly, the School of Education, is divided up into five different Research and Training Groups: Creativity, Culture and Faith; Interdisciplinary Learning Education Technology and Society; Professional Learning and Leadership; Social Justice, Place and Lifelong Education; and Curriculum, Assessment and Pedagogy.
- Next is the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, where prospective PGR students are encouraged to get in touch with individual academic researchers about opportunities for postgraduate research.
- The School of Law has several areas of expertise that PGR students can profit from. These research themes are: Commercial and competition law, Criminal law and criminal justice, Family law, Intellectual property, International law, International private law, Labour law, Legal history, Legal theory, Private law, and Public law.
- My research is part of the School of Social and Political Sciences. Besides Sociology (including Criminology), the other research areas are Politics, Urban Studies and Economic and Social History.
Now, this might seem confusing and overwhelming, so I took the liberty to spend way too much time making an overview in (oh hi, nostalgia!) Paint.
Please keep in mind that this overview is not complete, as the different Schools organise seminar series and have several Research Groups.
Starting your research
After familiarising yourself with the University, College and School, and after you’ve had your first introductory meeting with your supervisors, it is time to start your research project! Of course, starting a PhD project is no easy task and the first words that my supervisors spoke to me were: “It’s a lot to take in and you will feel overwhelmed.” Looking back, I’m glad they said that to me because it made me feel calmer when deadlines for literature review drafts, supervision meetings, seminars and courses were coming together and I started to seriously doubt whether the days had enough hours for me to finish everything. Whenever you feel like you are starting to lose track of everything you need to do: make lists! Create schedules, write down when you need to work on which task and do not forget to plan some time off in your week. The mistake I always make is that I make impossibly busy schedules, that are too unrealistic for me to stick to.
Most PGR students will start by reading the most important literature and most supervisors provide students enough time to read prior to starting the actual research. The Research Training Programme offers several courses on postgraduate level, which were crucial for me in finding my way within the College of Social Sciences. Granted, I was not amused when I found out that I had to do a statistics course, after having successfully avoided this for six years. However, now I am so glad I did it! Not only were the courses helpful in providing the key theories, methodologies and conceptual backgrounds to the social sciences, they also proved the best way for me to meet new friends and socialise with fellow PGR students! Talking to other students about your experiences is highly recommended. It will help you discover that you are not the only one with certain struggles and questions, and it will allow you to learn from others.
Looking back on the first months, I realise that I benefitted tremendously from talking to the four PhD students I share my office with. Their tips and tricks, advice and routines helped me settle in my office and at the University of Glasgow. I made a deal with one of them that we will regularly discuss our work. Talking about any issues or challenges you’re facing can be a relief and it can lead to new perspectives. Hearing other researchers speak about their research – during seminars, lectures or in a coffee break – may lead you to new insights about your own project. Although it might seem like you should devote every single minute of your time on your own project, in the long run it is rewarding to participate in workshops and seminars.
When people ask me these days what I study, I am no longer surprised to hear the words “I’m a PhD student in Sociology” coming out of my mouth. The courses, supervision meetings, seminar series, conversations with other PGR students and reading list for my literature review helped me get settled in the College of Social Sciences. Still, do feel free to come up to me to talk about History, because -as I discovered using Paint again for the first time in years – apparently I sometimes nostalgically long for the past.
The UofG Research Strategy & Innovation Office organises several helpful workshops for researchers, see for example the Beginning Your Research training.