Small Beginnings

Do you remember the first day of your PhD? Do you remember what that was like?

I do! I can vividly remember showing up at my office, being told which of two desks I could commandeer for the next few years and then waiting and wondering what I should do next. I knew my supervisor already, but knew that I wasn’t due to see him for several days. I knew, kind-of, what area I was going to be working in.

So I started reading my Master’s dissertation. I had carried that into university with me that day, in my bag, proof for myself that I was meant to be there. As I worked through the pages of a short book I hadn’t read in over a year I found typo after typo. Clunky line after clunky line. I picked up a red pen and started amending my previous work in the margins.

And I felt bad.

Foolish. Naive even. What was I doing here? What was I going to be doing…

…for the next three and a half years?!

I had no idea.


And then Shaine asked me if I wanted to go for a cup of tea as it was eleven o’clock and that’s what happened at eleven in the maths department. For the rest of that day, and the rest of that week – and the rest of the month – I was slowly introduced to the rhythms of life in the maths department.

Meeting by meeting, I figured out what I needed to do to get started. Chat by chat, I started to understand what being a PhD maths researcher meant.

One thing stood out to me: research takes time. It takes work over a long period of time. You might have breakthroughs or periods of intense activity, but it all takes time.


From small beginnings you must have come a long way over the course of your PhD. Do you remember your first day? Your first week or month? Can you compare and contrast that to where you are now?

I imagine if you’re reading this that your viva is some time in the near future. At the very least you can have a good idea of when it might be. Look back to the beginning of your PhD journey and realise: you have come a long way.

You’ve invested the time and the work to become better, to build your research and develop yourself. Remember and realise that you must be good by this stage of your journey; you might not be at the end, not yet, but you have made a lot of progress and found a lot of success since your beginning.