PhD Induction Day 2016


Photo attrib. Agnieszka Mikolajczyk

Blog written by Dr Amy Eberlin

On an overcast Thursday in September, the School of History’s new PhD students were bundled off to a day of ice breakers, information, and a tasty lasagne lunch at the beautiful Cambo House in Kingsbarns, Fife. For the third year in a row, Cambo House and Estates was the location for the annual ‘School of History PhD Induction’, providing a warm and inviting setting for incoming doctoral students to learn about the School of History and the PhD experience.

The day started off with some general introductions before we jumped into ‘speed meeting’. Similar to speed dating, but with significantly less romance, new and old students alike were encouraged to get to know their partner through five minutes of conversation. With the age old (and overused) questions ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What is your research topic?’ banned from use, the students were given alternative question suggestions to spark conversations. Everyone was up to the task, throwing themselves into swift conversations before being told to switch partners and start all over again.

Next on the day’s agenda was a guide to the School of History given by Elsie, Riccardo Bavaj, and Dawn Hollis. Elsie and Riccardo went over the School’s postgraduate student handbook, providing the new PhD students with essential information about the School of History’s facilities, the yearly progress review, research funds, and the support provided by postgraduate and faculty mentors. Dawn spoke about PGR representation and the function of PGR representatives.

We then broke for tea, coffee and quite an impressive selection of cakes. Armed with caffeine and sugar, we quickly returned to conversations about the PhD. After giving some advice to the new doctoral students about writing a thesis, Riccardo had them break into groups and think about what it means to produce ‘an original contribution to knowledge’. This was a valuable question, which, hopefully, will stick with these students as they progress through their doctoral experience. Each group responded to the question with interesting and thought provoking answers, leading to a wider group discussion considering the question.

Following from that, Agnieszka Mikolajczyk and Matthew Ylitalo, second year PhD students in the School of History, and Dawn Hollis spoke about ‘being a PhD student’ and the thesis-related activities that they were involved in. Agnieszka told us about the conference papers that she has presented and the summer language course that she attended in Iceland. Matt described the talks that he has given to school children, local history societies, and local museums, and the SGSAH workshops that he has attended. dsc03102Finally, Dawn spoke about the opportunities to become involved in the School of History and the wider university, representing the interests of PGR students, and the international conferences. This session reflected the myriad of exciting opportunities available to PhD students in the School of History outwith writing their thesis. However, each student also emphasised the life that they have outside of their PhD, speaking about their hobbies, families and wider social life as providing balance in their doctoral experience.

The last session of the day (and the last before lunch) was mine. Having submitted my thesis just over a month ago, Dawn asked that I speak on ‘the view from the top’ and provide some insight into the PhD as a whole. Reflecting on my four years at St Andrews, I tried to give the new students advice that I got in my early years and some that I would have liked to have had. Emphasising the need to have a life outside of the PhD, I also spoke about establishing a relationship with your supervisor, organising yourself and your work, and responding flexibly to challenges.

After my very brief session on the whole experience of the PhD, we ended the day’s events with a delicious lunch of lasagne, salad and garlic bread, followed by a dessert of crumble and cream. Continuing on from the organised sessions, conversation bubbled over as we finished off our lunches and headed back to St Andrews.

All in all, the annual PhD induction day for the School of History’s newest PhD students was quite a success!

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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