To do or not to do…

I’ve now been doing my PhD for, ooh, all of seven weeks and I must say it can be a rather weird experience. I suppose this is stating the obvious, but it’s not like a Master’s where at least you have some structure – reading lists, seminars to go to, coursework to hand in – in addition to the dissertation. With the PhD it’s: You want to research xyz? OK, go off and do it then. There’s a few milestones along the way but you’re pretty much on your own.

I know what I do on a micro basis, just about every day:

  • Check Twitter and personal email on iPhone while still in bed and waiting for everyone else to leave so I don’t get in their way (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
  • Have breakfast and read online news and scan Google Reader, bookmarking to Diigo stuff to read later (I will get round to that, honest…).
  • Fortified by coffee, check work email and deal with anything pressing.
  • Consult to-do list for anything work related that has to be done that day to earn money, otherwise select something academic to read, make notes on etc.

And I know what I’ve done since I started, which is mostly along the lines of getting my head together and sparking my thinking, usually in 25 directions at once:

  • Set up Bookends database (Mac version of Endnote), which currently contains 140 references (articles, theses and books), around a third of which I have written notes on. So, lots of reading!
  • Drew up a list of further references to be followed up.
  • Visited Wellcome Library and looked at several collections of medical recipes in the Rare Materials Room.
  • Began compiling details of primary source materials.
  • Got clear in my head exactly what my research topic is and how I want to research it (no mean feat!).
  • Prepared ‘Case for funding’ statement for AHRC application.
  • Set up RSS feeds for relevant journal contents, blogs, conference details and new books.
  • Attended Roehampton induction weekend.
  • Attended Roehampton Graduate Writing workshops with Kate Williams.
  • Attended Vitae Digital Researcher workshop (on academic uses of social networking).
  • Attending BSHM Poynter lecture, Ruth Richardson, “Promiscuous & Inattentive Proceedings: The ethics and etiquette of patient care in the Georgian era”.
  • Booked on Progress in Medicine conference, Bristol University.
  • Booked on History of Western Herbal Medicine seminars (2), Middlesex Uni.
  • Booked on Digitised History: the impact of digitisation on research into 18th and 19th Century Britain, JISC/British Library.
  • Giving presentation at Roehampton Postgraduate Conference, “From the mundane to the marvellous: Eighteenth-century manuscript medical recipes”.
  • Joined Vitae, Dandelion Network and Graduate Junction (unsure of value of last two, but will see).
  • Began this blog.
  • Developing contacts (and profile) via Twitter (@sallyosborn).
  • Contacted two academics about obtaining their papers for conferences I can’t attend.

I have read a number of books about doing a PhD, I am used to working alone (particularly since I did my undergraduate degree at the OU), I did have an induction weekend at uni, and I do have a responsive supervisory team. I also have an existing network of friends and fellow students which is fast getting bigger and bigger, and that’s a great support in itself. And I’m not complaining, I’m having a ball – it’s just I sometimes feel like I’ve slipped down the rabbit hole and don’t quite know which way is up!

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