Blog: A day in the life of a first year PhD student

Author Sarah Askevold is a first year PhD student at the Distributed Algorithms Centre for Doctoral Training. 

With the Virtual Postgraduate Open Week around the corner I thought I would share my day as a first year PhD student at the Distributed Algorithms Centre for Doctoral Training. I previously undertook a BSc in Geophysics here in Liverpool, so I will also touch on the main differences between life as a PhD student compared with that of an undergraduate.

Working within a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) is slightly different from a traditional PhD, as I’m a part of a cohort of 11 people, and we’re all doing loosely related PhDs. We share an office and go through a similar training program at the beginning of our PhD programme. We are 1 of 4 cohorts at the CDT, and there are also several post-docs and lecturers associated with the centre. We all meet once a week and get together to share our current experiences, talk about any research challenges and to hear about each other’s progress. It helps to know that I’m researching alongside like-minded people.

The biggest change for me starting my PhD, is the flexibility. I decide when and if I go to the office, though I generally try to get in every day for the social aspect, and a natural work/ home divide. So, a typical day starts with me getting into the office anytime between 7am and noon. At the office I’ll usually do some reading, some coding and organisational work, like answering emails and scheduling meetings with my supervisor(s). I have also signed up for an undergraduate course where I follow the lectures I deem relevant, without having to do any assessments for it.

At the CDT we have a couple of weekly meetings and/ or training sessions, so I’ll go to them to keep in touch with the other cohorts and the research staff. Afterwards I’ll go for lunch, either in the office kitchen or in one of the many coffee shops on campus. I’ll then return to the office and do some more work before heading to a society, a guest lecture or home to a good book.

In many ways a PhD feels more like a job than studying. Yes, I’m learning a lot, but I am also responsible for my own learning, by looking up what to learn or by requesting material from my supervisors. I much prefer this to undergraduate studies, as I can afford to have a few less productive days or weeks, without a serious impact to my education.

So, if control over your own learning and workday, freedom to take any course without the pressure of assessments seems interesting, apply for a PhD!

Remember to register for the Virtual Postgraduate Open Week (21-25 November) to find out more about being a postgraduate student at Liverpool.