Starting a postgraduate degree is one of the most fulfilling and exciting things that you can do in your academic career, but it can also seem extremely daunting and overwhelming. For the first time, you are in charge of your own learning and research; so I wanted to share a couple of things that might help you!
First, let me introduce myself: my name is Hannah, and I am a PhD student here at Goldsmiths! I’m also one of your PGR representatives – but I’ll come back to that later. There is a lot that I could say about postgraduate study, but you’re going to be doing enough of your own reading, so I’ll keep it to the best two things that I think you should know!
1. YOU are the expert on your ideas
If you’re starting a postgraduate degree, then the likelihood is that you really like your subject – I mean, it’d be a long and arduous process if you hated it, right? It’s possible that you’ve already planned out what research you’d like to do, and things you want to know more about. Perhaps you’ve fantasised about the ground-breaking work that you’re going to do and the impact it will have on your field. Well, these ideas that you currently have…they’re yours. Only you know what you want to do, why, and how it’ll make a difference. Nobody else has the exact same thoughts and perspective as you do, and that’s why you are important to your subject.
Of course, Goldsmiths is full of fantastic staff who are experts in their respective fields, and they can guide you towards useful literature and theories. But when it comes to your unique contribution – that’s all yours, and nobody else can do it quite like you can! You were accepted onto your course because the university could see that you have something to offer that nobody else has, so try and have faith in yourself!
But what if you don’t know what you want to do yet? Well, one of the most exciting parts of postgrad study – whether that’s a taught course (PGT) or research (PGR) – is that you don’t have to have any of the answers. This is your time to explore your field, work out what you’re passionate about, make mistakes, and grow as a student. Talk to your supervisors and tutors. Network. Read journals. All of these things are there to guide you to your own ideas and find where you fit.
2. Network, network, network!
One of the first things that I did when starting my PhD was ask my supervisors what groups, networks, and newsletters I should join. Equally, my supervisors were great at putting me in touch with other students who had similar topics or were working in the same department. From here, I’ve been able to meet some amazing early career researchers (ECRs), and have started getting involved in research projects across the world! Postgraduate study isn’t always about what you know, but also who you know and how they can inspire you. Chat to people, bounce ideas off one another, and grow as a community.
Networking is so important at postgraduate level, but so is having a support network. These people will become your friends and will lift you up in the most stressful of times. They are the ones who will tell you if something you’re doing is wrong, and they will help you to work out why. It may seem scary right now, especially if you are new to Goldsmiths, but try something new and see where it takes you.
There are a number of ways that you can get involved and meet new people within the university. As I mentioned previously, I am one of the PGR representatives, and we host regular social events to help you get to know other postgraduate students. Keep an eye out for the dates of these, and whether they will be online or (hopefully soon) in person. Likewise, the SU hosts lots of different groups, clubs/teams, and events. These aren’t just for undergraduate students; you are just as much a vital part of the University of London family, and these amazing activities are for your enjoyment too. Don’t be afraid to sign up to things and get involved. You’re never too old, so enjoy being a student and having the chance to do these things!
Goldsmiths is a fantastically friendly university, and one of the most expressive and inclusive places I’ve ever been. Regardless of who you are, where you are from, or where you are going – everyone is here to support you and help you to achieve your goals. You’ve worked hard to get here, and you deserve it!