PhD students in an Edinburgh pub

The PhD-pal life: semester one


It’s a rainy morning here in Rome, or rather ‘dreich’ – if I’ve learned anything from my Scottish pals. I’m actually wondering whether it is my fault and I brought over these clouds from the Burgh when I flewback to Italy…

Anyway, semester one’s already come to an end: Only a few days and it’ll be Christmas. If I stop to think about it, it’s all happened so fast, from the very first moment I got to know I was accepted on to the PhD program I had been dreaming of for so long, to the very last meeting with my supervisors before the holidays. Everything in between has just literally flown by: induction week, progress meetings, tutor briefings, research reading groups, conferences and talks, staff and student receptions, Friday pints and many socials. One thing led to another and the first three months have slipped through my fingers.

If I were to describe with one word what embarking on a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh’s like, I don’t think I could. I reckon the beauty of such a program stems from its richness in terms of input: it gives so many different opportunities to grow, not only within academia but as an individual, too. So far, this PhD has been unexpected, exciting, thrilling, scary, and challenging: in other words, an emotional rollercoaster in only three months already!

One of the best parts is having the chance to share these mixed feelings with an amazing group of students who have worked so hard to get here – and to now be on the same boat altogether. My ‘PhD pals’ (as we like to call ourselves) and I have the privilege of studying at one of the best Universities in the world, in such an intellectually stimulating environment, supervised by some of the most eminent researchers in the field. Now, how amazing is that?

A PhD in Linguistics at Edinburgh University is also very different from an undergraduate or postgraduate taught degree: There are no exams to take, just classes to attend and a huge variety of reading groups which a PhD student may or may not choose to attend according to whether they think it might help them with their research. Oh, and there are no exams or essay submissions either! You might think this sounds like a dream come true – who wouldn’t think so at first? – but not having deadlines established for you, rather having to establish deadlines for yourself, can turn out to be quite daunting. On the one hand, this freedom of choice surely empowers you, because you can pick a class or attend talks which you think you might be interested in without the stress of being assessed; on the other hand, though, having so many options may initially overwhelm you, and not having a pre-set date after which you can consider yourself to be ‘done’ can be quite destabilizing. Add other commitments you may have on top of this (such as tutoring duties which include teaching and marking essays/exams, and more) and there you have it: the PhD(-pal) life.

How can you manage all of this, you may ask? Well, this is what I’ve been trying to figure out myself in the course of these months – together with my PhD pals. Indeed, if there is one thing that I am sure of (as opposed to my research proposal, which keeps on changing week after week – but that’s another story) is that I am not alone in this. Although a PhD may at times feel like it’s just you and your research, I have come to realise that I have support all around me at University. Not only do I have a wonderful team of supervisors that I know I can go to for both academic and non-academic advice, but also my PhD pals, whom I know I can always count on – N.B. the use of ‘whom’: I guess I really am a linguist.

In only three months, I have been able to share excitement and worries with a group of brilliant students and wonderful people that I’m so glad to call friends – I mean, pals! Not only have we been sharing PhD joys and hardships, but we have been making the most of our time in a stunning city like Edinburgh, from morning runs around the Meadows…

… and climbing up Arthur’s Seat on Sundays…

… to pints on Friday afternoons at 5 – after all, would we really be in Scotland if no pubs were involved?

All in all, these first three months have gone well beyond what I could have ever imagined: I am blessed to have begun my PhD journey in such a beautiful environment, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what the future has in store for me and my pals.

About Mattia

Linguistics PhD student Mattia is the Linguistics Social Media Ambassador (Research Focus) at the University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye on the Linguistics & English Language at Edinburgh Twitter account @EdinUniLEL for research and event updates from Mattia.

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