A Day in the Life of a PhD: That First Week

Who knew, who actually thought you would be in this point, about to start a PhD. If you haven’t had time to process it, in between the drinks and celebrations, you’re starting a P H D. Class feeling isn’t it?

Was this your party?

Although at this point as you walk toward the office of your new supervisor, I can almost certainly guarantee that you will be so full of nervy excitement, you won’t know whether to wee your pants or jump and dance around. You must power through this and get this done, after all you have no idea what is in store for you. Sometimes your supervisor will tell you in advance, and spoil the surprise, thats no fun! As you get to their office, you won’t know where to look, the floor, the ceiling, out the window, anywhere just try not to stare intensely at their face. I can seriously recommend just look past them, so it looks like you’re looking at them? Thats good if you’re really nervous, but if you’re ok, then talk to them. They will probably ask you the standard niceties, and maybe where you plan on starting with the work before taking you on THE tour, this will involve the office (probably shared), the area you’ll work in and any extra places that you need to know about…

The views at work are terrible I swear.
On this tour, the best part, or worst part, is the introduction to the rest of the people in the office. If it was anything like mine, your boss will make a grand entrance and proclaim your arrival to the rest of the people. They may get excited, they may grunt as they hide in despair from the idea of seeing the new student. At this point, it’s probably best to be a friendly sociable type of person, say hi, say who you are, my supervisor said all that for me. So in essence, I just stood there like a bit of soggy sorry lettuce, if lettuce could stand. This was followed by a swift exit to see the rest of the facilities. The tour ended shortly after and my boss asked me if I was going back to the office… I said yes, I didn’t I went to a computer room that I knew was safe from the more advanced PhD people. It was scary, I’m confident at the best of times, but that was just daunting. On that first day I’d have much preferred to shit in my hands and clap than be sociable. So really, any normal person would probably go back the next day when they were ready, what did I do… I avoided the place altogether, said I was ill and had the rest of the week off… but shush nobody knows that. Except everyone that reads this.

Anyway, Monday came around, and I went for it, I did it, went to the office, first thing, I was there, kept myself to myself and walked to a free computer. Technically ‘hot desking’ was in place, where computers are available to those who get there in the morning, or whenever one comes free. This is a nightmare on your first day. It is more than likely that people will have ‘their’ computer. Don’t even think about sitting on that one. or the other one. It will be met with a sigh or a dirty look. You won’t notice these looks or noises but they happen… find a free one and just sit down. Here you will begin to meet your colleagues. Fantastic. It is honestly, these people are genuinely awesome (most of the time). In fact you might notice a few types of people, they don’t always appear, but from experience there’s always a few people that tick these boxes:

  • The Quiet one: Often keeps themselves to themselves, keeps their head down and hammers their work home, dedicated and can often come out with top dollar jokes. Watch out, they’re very clever and can definitely help out in time of need.


  • The Angry man: This is the one to beware, don’t dare sit in his/her chair or they will unleash hell, don’t mess with them, they are angry and sweary and intimidating. (often hates the office dickhead). However they are fun and entertaining when you get out of work. Feed pints and shit gets awry.


  • The Office dickhead: Beware of this one, often makes friends easily, but can drag you down the road to despair, will honestly annoy the living f*** out of you, if you care about work. They will be smarmy so just power through the shit and you will be fine. Can confirm, outside of work, these guys are really really good people, but work turns them. So don’t count them out. Give it time.


  • The “leader”: This is the last of the typical types, this one believes they are the boss, imposes the opinion, and comes up with generally wank ideas, these are often shot down by the quiet one of the group. However deep down, they are actually alright.

I actually asked my Dad about these ones, just so I had a proper adult opinion. You know, just to make sure…

Credit: imgflip.com
Once you’ve introduced yourself to them, everything seems less stressful. Much less stressful, next comes the actual work… oh lord that is worse. You actually have to recall all that stuff you did during first, second and sometimes third year… it’s daunting. You have to remember thing apparently? Who knew. Like who actually thought you’d use it again, like Pythagoras. Who uses that now… Builders maybe? Architects? I’m just speculating.

Going back to the work, I seriously messed up mine. I would advise against that. On my first week I destroyed at least £250 worth of glassware, I would high 5 myself, but I genuinely feel so bad for that… like still… a year later. A definite tip, take it easy, don’t dive in at the deep end when you start. You’ll be running high with all the stress of dealing with that one dickhead you don’t like… OH and the actual work (lets not forget that). PSA: Just so you’re aware every office has one, unless you’re lucky and don’t have one… but thats very rare.

During the first week, I’d advise getting all admin in order and having a system to log what you do set up, that way when you get to later on in the course you can look back and see what you’ve already done. Mostly, above all else, its very rare that this happens but don’t let your supervisor belittle you or push you around. If they’re over loading you tell them. Its a two way street. One of the biggest shocks you will have, well I had it anyway, was that all the lecturers actually talk to you, and they’re actually pretty sound. I know, top nerd, but who cares, I’m on a PhD, I’m literally the real life Fogell right now. Nerd central.

Me… now that I do science. Or Fogell if you know the film

Things will develop fast from here, like telling your friends how its going, and that you actually have a job now and can’t go to the pub at 2pm on a wednesday afternoon… or you can’t go out on the sesh on Thursday, as heartbreaking as that is. However you probably will, and the next day will be so so painful. Dodging your supervisor is hard enough, but if you’re hungover it is SO much more difficult… trust me. This is all for another time. There’s a plethora of stories to share! (I’m proud I used a posh word)

It’s all downhill from here, but hey, release your inner Bilbo Baggins, you’re going on an adventure…

Credit: New Line Cinema/MGM

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