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A Day in the Life of a PhD Student

phd student day in life

As some of you may know, I am currently in my first year of a PhD programme at the University of Leicester's Department of Museum Studies. Studying for a PhD is very different to the undergraduate and Masters degrees I've completed in the past and adjusting was quite a learning curve! Today I thought I'd give you a bit of an insight into my life and answer the burning question of "So, what does a PhD student actually do all day?" Hopefully this post won't end up being too boring...

What's involved in completing a PhD?

The aim of a PhD project is to produce an 80,000 word thesis. I have three years to complete this. There are no traditional written exams, but I will have a viva voce examination at the end my my three years, in which I'll be expected to defend my thesis to a team of experts in the field. If you pass your viva, you'll become a Doctor!

My Project

My PhD is on the subject of archaeological plaster casts. These are exact replicas of ancient Greek and Roman statues that were manufactured in the eighteenth and ninteenth century using Plaster of Paris. Archaeological plaster casts have somewhat of a bad reputation in museums; they are often considered "fakes". My project aims to understand how to present these sculptures as objects in their own right and how to convey their complex individual histories. It is an incredibly interesting interdisciplinary project in which I am investigating issues of authenticity, authority, and value in a museum context. If you have no idea of what an archaeological plaster cast looks like, the photos for this post were taken in the Cast Courts of the V&A Museum in London, to give you a bit of a flavour of the objects I'm working on!

phd day life student

How does PhD life differ to undergraduate studies?

Firstly, my contact hours are far fewer. I have no lectures to attend and I only meet with my main supervisor once per month for an hour. Reading lists and set essay titles from your university are a thing of the past, I'm expected to work entirely independently. I can appeal to my supervisor for advice if I get stuck or need some guidance but 90% of the time, I'm on my own. I also do not have the long holidays of most undergraduate and masters students. My PhD is like a full time job; I can take a maximum of 23 days holiday per year. Another major difference between undergraduate degrees and a PhD is to do with money. You are able to apply for government loans to finance an undergraduate degree but this is not an option for PhD studies. You have to either self-fund your PhD (which is EXPENSIVE) or you can attempt to get external funding. I was lucky enough to get full funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council for my PhD, but acquiring funding for humanities degrees is not easy. It's definitely something that you have to put a lot of thought into before applying.

day in life phd student

A typical day

Despite being a bit more restricted in terms of holidays, how I spend the individual days of the week is quite flexible. I am expected to work the hours equivalent to that of a 9-5 job, but when I choose to work is up to me. For example, I can take a Tuesday off if I fancy, but I'll need to work on the Sunday of that week to make it up. On a standard day, I try to be in the library by 9am. At the moment, I am conducting a literature review, so the majority of my day is spent reading and literature searching. I take a lunch break around noon and as I live quite close to the campus, I'll head back to my flat for this. I ALWAYS experience a downturn in motivation in the early afternoon, so I like to spend the hours between 12-2pm doing "admin" type tasks in my room; cleaning up, scheduling tweets, replying to emails, organising my diary etc. In the afternoon, it's back to reading! I finish up around 5.30/6pm. Sometimes I'll work later into the evening too, depending on how productive I'm feeling.

phd student life typical day

But there's more!

As my work is based in museums, I go on visits, trips and excursions aplenty! The "fieldwork" for my PhD will be conducted in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, which has one of the best plaster cast collections in the country. I also regularly visit Cambridge University's Museum of Classical Archaeology, which has a fantastic cast collection, and once the V&A reopens its second Cast Court after renovation, I'll be down in London very frequently too. In addition to this, I have many training requirements to fulfil, which takes me all the way across the country! In the past few months I've been on a training activities in York, London, Liverpool and more! PhD life is really varied and has given me so many fantastic opportunities already - I absolutely love it.

phd student typical day in life

Do you have a well structured daily routine or are you more of a butterfly? Let me know in the comments below! If you have any questions about PhD life, please do send them across to me and I will endeavour to answer!

Until next time,

A x


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