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Starting your PhD - a researcher's diary

When it comes to starting your PhD, you will no doubt be going through a whirlwind of emotions. To help you settle in, researcher Alan Taman recalls beginning his own PhD journey.

Starting your PhD degree will be an exciting and unpredictable challenge.

The benefits of not knowing

I began my postgraduate research with Birmingham City University in September 2018. It would be my third venture into higher education.

For my studies, I would be examining psychosocial determinants of perceptions of health inequalities. 

You’d think, then, that the feelings of starting a new degree would be familiar after two previous successful attempts. Far from it.

It has been a few decades since the last time I studied at university, so that plays a part, but there’s a deeper shade of unknowing that comes with starting a PhD – undertaking a research degree carries with it an obligation not to know.

After all, that’s the point – you’re supposed to explore an area that has not been researched and then construct, with great academic rigour and sustained cogency, a coherent and new argument which is not only true but ground-breaking enough for your peers to want to hear about it.

A mix of emotions

I remember how I felt the day I arrived home after enrolling. At first, I was excited, hopping around the room like a child at a birthday party. But then I remembered that this would be the most challenging thing I have ever done.

It would also be the longest and most in-depth thing I have ever done. Not only that, but I’d also be inviting criticism on my work. Suddenly I started to question whether I’d made the right decision.

The PhD journey – unpredictable, exciting, challenging

However, I remembered just why I wanted to do a doctorate, and specifically a PhD in health. I wanted to know the answer to the problem that no one else in my field could solve.

In my case, do people – nearly all of whom will tell you they cherish their health and the NHS – think about inequalities in health the way they do?

And don’t think about them, accepting whatever view matches their own, often with attached blame and sometimes with crippling vilification of the very people suffering the most?

The PhD journey is a chance for me, and for you on your respective studies, to find the right questions, begin to look at answers and come up with something entirely new.

It’s worth the uncertainty and the risk of getting it wrong. You’ll meet new friends, form strong relationships with your supervisors and see new places.

Starting your PhD will mean there’s a lot you don’t know, but that’s the point – it’s the not knowing that will make these next few years exciting and unpredictable.

If you want to know more about life as a research student, Karen Patel - now a Research Fellow here at BCU - offers some insight in the video below.

Interested in starting your PhD at Birmingham City University? Access the latest studentships, info on fees and funding, and the latest news at our Our PhDs section.