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To all new doctoral researchers welcome to the University of Reading, and hello to those of you who are continuing with your studies.
Those of you who are continuing with your doctoral research will have been dedicated to your research, and will be making progress in the year ahead. Although you are familiar with your environment and with the nature of your research, you are likely to deal with some challenges as you navigate more complex aspects of your research.
For those of you who are starting your doctoral research at this time of year, you are likely to be focused on dealing with various tasks related to starting your research.
Some of you may have studied your first degree here at Reading, so this will already be a familiar place. Some of you may have just arrived after finishing your degree at another UK university. Others may have taken a break from work to pursue your academic interests, so being back in an academic setting will be very stimulating. At the same time, you may feel a little unsettled as you start doing academic work again.
For international students coming to the UK for the first time, it may take a little while to adjust to your new environment and to get used to the academic system. Although you are familiar with studying in a second language, you may wonder what it will be like to do your research where a higher degree of language proficiency is required. If you have any questions you can always consult colleagues in the International Study and Language Institute who will be able to provide advice.
Starting your doctoral research is a decision with great significance: you have created an opportunity to increase your knowledge and skills to gradually develop your expertise in your subject area.
A new beginning
Any new beginning is a time of many changes, and for most of us these can be accompanied by mixed emotions. Whenever we decide to do something new it is because we want to grow, develop our knowledge and skills to make things better and increase opportunities for the future.
Choosing to study for a doctoral degree requires that you put yourselves outside of your comfort zone to stretch and develop your skills. It is normal to have a sense of discomfort as you face new concepts and new ways of working. The year ahead will bring many new experiences that will be interesting and motivating.
However, sometimes there may be moments of uncertainty, frustration or disappointment. Most of us, when going through a period of change, tend to experience some of these feelings particularly when the change has involved making difficult choices, and required investing a lot of resources.
Often in a new environment we encounter situations that we were not expecting. At times, we may experience doubts about whether we have made the right decision. When this occurs, it is helpful to keep in mind that it is normal, particularly when our decisions lead to major changes.
Often, it is not possible to anticipate all the probable things that could cause us difficulty or concern. Perhaps it is a good thing that this happens, or we might never decide to do anything of value!
By viewing these unexpected situations and feelings as part of the experience we can adapt more easily and build our strengths too. Trust that you have the capacity to deal with them effectively by being proactive, and you can also consult with others about ways of managing these challenges.
Whenever we make a change it means we are ending something, and leave something behind. Sometimes we may miss what we left, such as family, a group of friends, a familiar environment, and a sense of feeling confident about how to do things.
Whenever we move to live in a different environment there is a natural process of reorientation. Initially we start to familiarise ourselves with the space, how things work, and getting to know people. As we become more familiar with our new surroundings, we gradually start the adaptation process which also involves some internal adjustments: how we see ourselves, and how we relate to others.
You already have experience of adjusting to new situations, for example when starting school, going to university for the first time, or starting a new job.
You may remember some of your experiences of how you adapted to these changes in the past. You can use what you learned, maintain an open mind and a flexible attitude, and view new experiences as part of the learning process.
As human beings we have the tendency to compare the new situation with our past experiences. Sometimes meeting new people can feel harder than expected. We may compare with our family and friends and wonder whether we will find likeminded people we can relate to.
At times, we may feel that where we came from was better than the current situation, or notice that our expectations are not met. When comparing we tend to focus our attention on what we do not like, preventing us from focusing on what can turn out to be positive experiences. Whenever you notice you are comparing with past experiences, view this as a natural tendency and then redirect your attention to understanding the current situation.
To maintain your interest and engage with your research you can choose to focus on what will contribute to your learning, accepting that some things cannot be changed and that these also contribute to your learning experience.
Working on your doctoral research is like embarking on a long-term project that requires self-management, organisation and patience to deal with the unexpected.
Keeping in mind that having to adjust to a new way of working is part of the process can help to maintain your balance.
So, when you find that things are not as clear as you hoped it does not mean that something is wrong. Instead, view these challenges as part of the bigger picture – you are exploring your subject in new ways and developing your research skills each day. By developing your strategies to manage the transition into working on your doctoral research , you will gradually make progress towards completing your degree.
Best wishes to all!
Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.