With the academic year having drawn to a close in mid-June, it is already time to start thinking about the next one. This is an extremely surreal thing to do in general, but especially now during COVID-19. I think all of us are feeling anxious and overwhelmed to some degree, and that includes students starting new degree programmes next year at every level. University can be hard under the best of circumstances, so we all have to work together to make next year the best it can possibly be in this situation. For new LSE PhD students, I have some advice on how to make this easier:
1. Forge a good relationship with your supervisor
Your dissertation supervisor is there for you no matter what. They are there to support you and guide you through what can be at times an arduous process. Especially during COVID-19, it is important to have contact with as many people as possible, and this includes our supervisors. Since in-person contact will be limited for the foreseeable future, try to start a Zoom or online partnership right away. Meet them the first week of the academic year and begin laying out your goals and tasks in front of you for Michaelmas Term. This will help you start the year off on the right foot.
2. Bond with your cohort
One of the best things about my first year of the PhD are the friendships I formed with the other PhD students in my cohort. This helped me through many of the challenges I faced during the first year. I think this is even more important to do now while we are all more isolated than normal. By creating friendships with your cohort, you can start to create a sense of community in your Department and make LSE feel like home. I’d recommend a weekly Zoom chat to stay connected and start building those friendships.
3. Set manageable goals for your first year
A lot of people will give you this advice, but that is because it is true. Starting a PhD can certainly be an overwhelming experience and it can be difficult to know where to start. I know I felt that way. It is important to get your supervisor’s feedback on this, but start thinking about the work in front of you and how you want to split up the year to accomplish your goals. For History PhD students, we usually spend the first semester working on literature reviews and historiography while spending the second term researching and writing our upgrade chapters. This is usually a good way to break down the first year, but the point is that dividing the year into sections and creating milestones along the way can help you feel like you are making progress and make the start of the PhD much more manageable and orderly!