Finding relevant information and support: online community & social media

 

It's almost impossible to not get overwhelmed at the beginning of one's PhD. There is so much information out there, so many different mediums and the more one investigates and gets into research, the more one realises how little they know. But this is all very normal – most, if not all PhD researchers feel that way. So my personal recommendation here would be to take it super easy and not put pressure on yourself to cover everything and become the "perfect PhD researcher".  

 

During my doctorate I joined two Facebook groups, which have been (and still are) very helpful:

I also occasionally checked two sites that cover different topics from academic writing to managing relationships with one's supervisor: https://thesiswhisperer.com/ and https://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/about/. 

Little by little (mostly just accidentally or after literally googling “reproductive rights research”, “gender and reproduction”) I also became aware of organisations, think tanks, research centres that do relevant work in my field and wherever possible I signed up for their newsletter, updates.

It was not until after I had already submitted my thesis and was waiting for my defence that I started using Twitter for professional purposes (and it’s been great!). I wouldn't say that I regret not joining Twitter earlier because I was fine without it, but it can be a great source of information and support (see e.g @AcademicChatter, @FromPhDtoLife). 

 

Research visits

Since the European University Institute was not a very good home for a PhD on reproductive rights I did several research visits during the doctorate. Indeed, going on research visits is a privilege of someone who has a fully funded PhD like myself and can thus knock on doors as a “self-funded researcher”. 

I went to Harvard FXB Centre, Cambridge Reproductive Sociology Research Group, Sussex CORTH and Women’s Link Worldwide. For me, my research visits made all the difference in the world and I could not imagine my PhD without them, but it is also important to note that not all of them were what I expected or hoped for. I cannot say exhaustively what the key to a good research visit is because it really depends on the individual and their expectations, but I really think it requires commitment and effort both from the PhD researcher and the host university/professor. If it seems that you are chasing someone who is not that into your research and will not have time for you then I would advise against that research visit. Maybe it is not worth the time and effort of relocation if all you can get out of it is access to another library (unless if that is what you need of course).

 

Someone once posted on social media that a good supervisor/mentor:

  • has skills you want to develop,

  • has a perspective different than your own,

  • is generous with their time,

  • can help you make connections and

  • is invested in your success.

I think most of these aspects are also true about a research visit – will you be able to develop new skills, can you make connections, will the person/department/research group hosting you be at least relatively generous with their time and invested in you. The question I get asked a lot is “how did you organise these visits?” and the answer is quite banal – I just asked. I emailed, I chased some people, I emailed again. I think the best lesson in life for me is that it is always worth asking (whatever it is then) because usually the worst thing that can happen is that you get a “no”, or no reply. But sometimes people say “yes” and many wonderful things can happen. So ask away, send that email. And while you are at it, do not apologise for emailing or “bothering” someone.