It has been almost 6 months since I started my PhD at the BDRA. Doing a part-time PhD from a distance can be tricky. There are times when you do feel isolated and wish you could have more face-to-face contact with people from the department. You also wish you could attend research training sessions and seminars as often as full-time students do. Loneliness is what I was mostly worried about in the beginning.
However, after my 6 month experience I can say with confidence that most obstacles can be overcome in 5 ways:
1- Maintaining regular contact with supervisors.
2- Following a study plan.
3- Keeping in touch with fellow PhD students.
4- Expanding your support network.
5- Visiting the University to attend research training days and other events as often as you can.
Maintaining regular contact with my supervisors was the most important thing for me. I have my supervisory meetings through Skype. I believe it is very useful to have all of your questions written down beforehand and also make very detailed notes while you are having the discussion. Of course there are times when you realize that you forgot to ask an important question or that you need further clarification, in which case an email or a Skype message can easily solve the problem. My supervisor also asks me to email her a short summary after each discussion, so that we both have a record of the points covered. I found this to be extremely helpful as in this way lots of points become clearer and this helps me stay on track.
The second most significant thing for me was to be able to stick to a good study plan. This was extremely important to me as I also work full time as a teacher in my country. For this reason I have been trying to take full advantage of the mornings (as I start work in the evenings) and the weekends. I plan on sticking to this schedule, which has worked well for me, so far.
What I have also found to be of utmost importance is regular contact with PhD students from the department, who have been very supportive and helpful especially with questions about important documents, or how to register for an event. Although these questions may seem trivial, they can really add more anxiety to an already stressed out PhD student.
I have also been talking to other PhD students here in Greece or reading about other people’s experiences on blogs or forums. Having a good support system is very useful, as it is always nice to know that you are not alone in this. Reading or listening to what other people in similar situations have to say can really help you avoid mistakes that could easily be made. For example, many PhD students I have talked to seem to agree that procrastination is the number one danger which is to be avoided at all costs. A good piece of advice they gave me was that even if you don’t feel like writing or reading one day, do something PhD-related that would benefit you in the future (e.g. manage your references, or proofread what you have written so far). In other words, use this day to your advantage.
Finally, I strongly recommend visiting the University in person as often as you can. In fact, I have visited the department twice so far and I plan to return this June for an on-campus training session. Although I did not stay for long (4 days are not enough, but still better than nothing), this experience was very motivating as I had the opportunity to have an extremely fruitful discussion with my supervisors face-to-face, as well as interact with and learn from other people and PhD students, who were very willing to give feedback and suggestions.
Overall, doing a part-time PhD at a distance can be challenging at times. However, in my experience, good organization and careful planning can help you overcome the difficulties and enjoy this very interesting journey!
Konstantina (Dina) Kontopoulou, PhD student