Since UEA is an hour journey from where I live, in a lovely Victorian terrace north of the city that I share with 2 other friends, I tend to study at home most days, only going in for seminars and meetings. Recently, however, I’ve started to travel in on Mondays where I have a study session with a couple of fellow PhD students. We sit together in Vista, the post grad coffee shop, and work together. It's nice motivation and good to see your peers every once in a while. Being a part time student and studying off campus can be a bit isolating and there are quite a few distractions at home (especially for someone who studies videogames); meeting up like this we can share goals for the coming week and hold one another accountable to them.
Monday is also the day the department’s seminar series happens – there’s usually a talk in the late afternoon from a student about the progress of their PhD, or an interesting external speaker. Sometime students and staff meet up under one of the three departmental research groups (in Film Television and Media these are: British Cinema, Feminist media studies, and media consumption) and exchange ideas for organising events or sharing and getting feedback on one another’s work. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to engage with academic staff and feel a real part of the research community.
It’s vital to integrate yourself into the research community – it’s what being at university is all about. And if you don’t have a research community, you need to make one. For example, in my first and second year, since there weren’t many others studying videogames in my department, I put together a Videogame Studies Reading Group, which was quite successful. About eight of us, postgrad students and staff with a tertiary interest in the study of games, met at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts café (a lovely quiet and well-lit space with views out onto the lush greenery of the campus – and, also, now the headquarters of the Avengers according to Hollywood) where we discussed a set reading. I highly recommend doing this to anyone struggling to find a support network, it’s also a good way to set little deadlines for pieces of reading and to find people to bounce ideas off.
I also teach at Norwich University of the Art’s Games Art and Design course two days a week, which takes a good deal of preparation. This has been incredibly rewarding and great work for my CV, but it’s been incredibly difficult to balance with my PhD, leading me to switch to part time. The PhD opens the doors for many exciting opportunities (teaching, conferencing, publication) but it’s important not to bite off so much that the PhD suffers (I’ve still not gotten the hang of this). For instance, projects I’ve currently got on the go include a chapter for a scholarly collection on board gaming, helping to organise a major conference on cult media (and co-authoring a paper on PlayStation 2’s infamous ‘third place’ advertising campaigns). I've also written a presentation on the exciting new genre of ‘walking simulators’ for the Norwich Gaming Festival.
I think it’s easy to tell from this breakdown that a typical day in the life of a PhD student tends to be anything but typical. Just as your conception of what your PhD is changes drastically year on year, how you spend your time also fluctuates wildly. One moment you’ll be focusing on conferencing and writing papers, another on knuckling down and concentrating on the PhD. Sometimes I like to go into town and spend the day reading at a café and sipping coffee. Your days become flexible and there’s never a dull moment. It’s exactly the reason I escaped the 9-5 grind of magazine publication to return to university.