1st Year PhD Survival Training

Sam and Ben's desks

The natural habitat of the 1st year PhD student (i.e. Sam and Ben’s desks)

Each October the Isotope, Comochemistry and Geochemistry Group gains numerous new PhD students who conduct important research in fields ranging from studying particles which existed before our Solar System to understanding the process of tectonic subduction through noble gas analyses. In 2016 Sam Bell and Ben Farrant joined the group and are fast approaching the end of their first year. With this in mind, they would like to share the experiences of their first year as full time researchers and hopefully give the newly incoming PhD students a chance to see what might be in store for them:

Sam on the SEM

Sam gathering data on the SEM at Manchester

Hi, I’m Sam and I came to the University of Manchester after studying for an MGeol in Geological Science at the University of Leeds. My PhD project is titled ‘Crystal storage and transfer in lunar magmatic systems’, and uses the chemical and textural characteristics of crystals in mare basalts to better understand volcanic systems on the Moon. I’m originally from Hull (so haven’t moved that far!) but I’ve really enjoyed living in Manchester over this past year as it’s a great city and the University is a fab place to study.

Ben on the VG

Ben gathering data on the VG 5400 Noble Gas Mass Spectrometer at Manchester

Hi I’m Ben and after completing a BSc Honours at the University of Glasgow I decided to come to the University of Manchester and study for a PhD in Cosmochemistry. This PhD is titled ‘Volatile Components and Impact melt Processing in the Early Solar System’ and involves studying the noble gas and halogen contents of chondritic meteorites to understand what effect impact melting has had on their abundances and distributions in the early Solar System. Coming from Glasgow and studying there means moving to Manchester was my first time leaving home but I have thoroughly enjoyed all the city has to offer and would highly recommend it to any as a welcoming and vibrant place to live.

Williamson in the Rain

Your new home for the next 3 or 4 years! (P.S. Bring a raincoat!)

Rather than describe all the things Ben and I got up to during our first year as PhD students we thought a better idea would be to compile a list of our top 5 tips that all upcoming PhD students should know.

I'm the PhD student now

Credit: Memes Generator

1. Get Involved! – When you first arrive in Manchester (or whatever city) it feels like starting over, as if you’re entering 1st year uni once again. However, you are extremely fortunate as the Isotope, Comochemistry and Geochemistry Group at Manchester is one of the most active groups, both academically and socially, you will come across. In a typical week activities could include cake club (for all you GBBO fans out there!), a group meeting and lecture series, Wednesday 5-a-side football (much needed after too many cake clubs!) and of course Friday Drinks! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed all these activities and encourage all new PhD students to get stuck in as it’s a great way to get to know the group. Outside this opportunities for PhD students include getting involved in outreach (letting the public know all about your and the groups research), attending conferences both within and outside Manchester and demonstrating for undergraduate practicals and fieldwork (a great way to help students in early in their Earth Science careers).

Awkward Seal 2

Credit: Memes Generator

2. Be Prepared – One of the most important constraints on your PhD life is time. 3 or 4 years can seem like an awfully long time when you begin your PhD but this will soon fly in and the first year will be over before you know it. Because of this it really helps to be prepared! Little things really help like: if you read an interesting article then note it’s name and do a brief summary at the time rather than putting it off; if you have a list of emails to send then send them asap and then you can move on to more important things and if you know your first year transfer report is approaching begin planning early and your stress levels will drop considerably! Things can easily begin to get on top of you but by getting to them as early as possible this can be avoided and PhD life can be made a far less stressful and far more enjoyable endeavour.

Evil Kermit

Credit: Memes Generator

3. Don’t Stress out! – Doing a PhD will feel different to anything you’ve done before, because it is, so don’t stress out about it! It can be daunting to not have anyone doing exactly the same course as you but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask other group members for help. Make the most of sharing an office with PhD students who are in their 2nd, 3rd or 4th year and pick their brains as they’ve been in your shoes already. PhD’s may on the surface seem solitary work but it’s important to make use of the expertise around you and ask questions to other group member and supervisors, as they’ll all be happy to help. There’s also a term known as imposter syndrome, everybody experiences it at some point, but you’ll get over it and you’ll be settled into PhD life before you know it!


Credit: Memes Generator

4. Have a Life! – Although you have voluntarily embarked upon a PhD this isn’t the only thing you can do while in Manchester. Yes it will be time consuming and a lot of work but it’s important to find balance. There are loads of chances to get involved in sport, music and whatever else you can think of both as part of the uni and in Greater Manchester. For example things me and Ben get involved in range from music production and Zumba to drawing and tennis so there’s plenty to choose from! Make sure you get some of these hobbies as it’s important to have an outlet and something you enjoy away from your PhD as too much can send you a bit loopy!

Oh Leo....

Credit: Memes Generator

5. Have Fun! – This is the most important piece of advice for your first year. You’ve (hopefully!) chosen your PhD project because it’s something you enjoy and find interesting. So, yes it may be stressful and hard work at times but we’ve both had a great 1st year and we’re sure you will too!

I don't always....

Credit: Memes Generator

Some societies which are worth keeping up to date with and joining if it suits you:





About Ben Farrant

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester conducting research into the processes of shock and impact melting in the early Solar System by examining chondritic meteorites. Specifically I will be investigating what effect these processes have had on the abundances and distributions of volatile elements, namely halogens and the noble gases.
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