Undertaking a PhD is a big life decision. It’s not for everyone, but can become years of hugely rewarding, enhancing work that develops you hugely - both as a professional and as a person. From the first months of my PhD, the most striking thing I have found is the transition from 'student' to 'researcher'. For some, it may seem like just a different word you use on the end of your email signature. But it isn't: it’s a fundamental evolution of your role in an academic department.
All the best parts of being a student are still there. If you’re having problems, there are academic, clerical and support staff who go out of their way to assist in whatever problem you may have. You can also benefit from being part of a vibrant, friendly community of other PhD students who will likely become your best friends by the time of your final submission. However, you no longer feel like a mere receiver of knowledge. As an undergraduate, your hours were spent scuttling between lectures and seminars scattered across campus, cramming your head with other's knowledge and using it, more often than not, to pass an exam or ace a paper. You were, unquestionably, a student.
As a postgraduate, you’re still learning and you’re still a student. But now, the knowledge you are developing is your own. It’s your work that you find yourself discussing around your department. It’s your original findings that you sweat over in the library or at home, honing into the best they can possible be. It’s you that other academics in your department turn to for suggestions – you’re more of an expert in your field than perhaps anyone else in your building! It’s you that finds yourself travelling across the country and world sharing your findings; spreading your original work at conferences and with academics that, just a few short months ago, you may have seen as above you.
But that was when you were a student. Now, you’re a driven, independent academic in-waiting, exploring unfound depths of your subject area that will educate others, as well as yourself. You’re an equal, where once you imagined yourself an inferior. You, without doubt, are a researcher.
Christopher Worrall, PhD student (Journalism)