New Beginnings: Starting the PhD Journey and Managing Change

Ryan Peacey, Criminology, Social Policy and Social Work, University of Manchester (2021 Cohort)

In late September 2021, I started my PhD in Criminology at the University of Manchester. When I received my place, and later my funding, it came after a period of prolonged uncertainty during the pandemic. Knowing I was at the start of a journey during which I would begin paving my way towards a career in academia, I was both anxious and excited. After an unexpected year out, I was excited to once again have the opportunity to immerse myself in my studies and further develop the research I had undertaken during my masters. Despite this, I felt the familiar anxiety about the change that starting a PhD would entail: how will I find studying at a new university? What will my day-to-day look like? How will I know if I am doing enough? Am I good enough to do a PhD? I share this as I feel some of these fears will likely be relatable to fellow early PhD students (and those who are considering a PhD), and in the hopes that doing so may help ease some of those fears.

I think there are widely shared fears regarding what it means to be ‘successfully undertaking a PhD’. A crucial part of my experience of navigating (and trying to minimise) these fears is rooted in integrating into a new university environment and the NWSSDTP community. From my first day, my colleagues at the University of Manchester were welcoming and supportive and I knew I had found my place. We discussed how we can establish an office culture that would feel like a safe, welcoming and encouraging space. This included a day spent reorganising and redecorating the office (quite the task after the lockdowns) to create an office space that felt our own. A key part of our newly reorganised office is our tea and coffee corner. This has given us a space to take breaks and talk to each other (much needed after the multiple lockdowns) and of course, a steady supply of snacks. We also organised office social events to get to know each other, talk about our research, and give those new to the city a chance to explore. Without a doubt, knowing I am surrounded by colleagues who I can share my worries with, or bounce ideas off, has quieted those fears and allowed me to grow as a researcher (see the included image of my wonderful colleagues).

During the NWSSDTP welcome week, I felt a similar sense of community. Meeting fellow first years and those running the DTP made me feel welcomed into a vibrant and supportive research environment. This feeling was further solidified during the workshop ‘PhD Life, balance, well-being and resilience’, which encouraged us to reflect on our feelings, PhD-related and beyond, acknowledge our internal voice, and the ways in which we can address the difficult ones. The knowledge that well-being is at the forefront of my studentship reinforces the supportive research environment that the NWSSDTP provides.

My key takeaway from my experience so far is the importance of having a community to be a part of. Having this has been invaluable for finding my feet at a new university, building confidence in my abilities as a researcher, and feeling a sense of belonging. At this stage of my PhD, I am looking forward to continuing to develop my research that explores interactions between transfeminine victims of hate crime and police in the UK, growing as both a researcher and academic, and the experiences I will have throughout this journey. Importantly, amongst all of this, I know I always have a place of solace in my colleagues.

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