Workshop Report — PhD Life | Postgrad Urbanists

  • Get into a zone of just being present in a moment where you can temporarily forget about the PhD. For Beth, that was through CrossFit and exercise.
  • Set a timer for short periods during which you work with full focus, and then enjoy the rest of the day without guilt. Everyone works differently so structure your day and routine in a way that works for you and your commitments.
  • PhD life is so amorphous that it’s easy to be hard on yourself if you don’t see day to day progress, and to feel accountable to nobody but yourself. But remember, you’re making progress with every little step.
  • Beth realised over the 4.5 years of her PhD that she works better under external pressure than self-imposed deadlines. If you relate to this, ask your supervisor/s to set smaller deadlines. This will help break the work down to smaller achievements.
  • Take that day of break before burnout is even on the cards. It’s harder to put in quality work on the PhD if your own fuel tank isn’t 100% full. And it’s not the end of the world if by doing so a PhD takes longer to complete.
  • Run timed Zoom writing sessions with other PhD students. The sense of community and having your camera on makes you feel more focused and accountable!
  • Externalise the PhD by making diagrams, talk things through with friends who understand the PhD process, and try to explain things to each other to find the gaps you need to work on next.
  • Beth kept a diary throughout her PhD which helped with the emotional labour of interviewing people in recovery. It also helped with writing a reflective section of the PhD which her examiners responded to very positively.
  • Put a mix of social, leisure and work time in your daily calendar.
  • Clarify the objective of your presentation and present up to three key points.
  • Consider that you might have more than one audience e.g. an in-person audience, those watching a live broadcast, or a later recording.
  • Decide if you want to come across as spontaneous and refreshing (by ad libbing from notes and visual prompts) or write out carefully detailed scripts.
  • Think of it as a spectrum; you will of course appear more spontaneous if you only use ‘thin’ notes than if you are, at the opposite end, reading from a script.
  • If a speech is ad lib, impromptu or extempore there may be no notes at all. But you increase the risk of making mistakes or going off track if you are unscripted.
  • Rehearse your timekeeping and how you will answer people’s questions.
  • Walk the space where you might be speaking and become familiar with how your voice can be effectively amplified there. Establish if you will be using a mic or will need to project your voice, and how the acoustics might change when the space is empty or full of people. This preparation will help manage your nerves.
  • Master your voice to effectively deliver your presentation.
  • Avoid sounding monotonous.
  • Increasing your volume can be jarring when overused.
  • Use the ‘power of the pause’.
  • Have a glass of water just before you speak.
  • Breathe from your diaphragm.
  • Although ‘up speak’ has become very popular, it makes one sound hesitant and as though everything is a question. Make your voice go down at the end of each sentence so it feels like you have made your point with confidence and finality.
  • Match your facial expressions to your words and avoid unintentional incongruences like a ‘frown of concentration’ or filler words like umm or err.
  • Be yourself!
Illustration by Alice Pullen (2020)
  1. Why are you doing your research and what problem does it solve?
  • Expand the readership of your research — publish in academic journals, collaborate with key groups inside and outside of academia, write for blogs and niche platforms.
  • Tailor the message to your audience — Christy tailors her writing depending on who is she is writing for — academics, tourists, tour operators, policymakers or the media.
  • Publications are increasingly interested in impact — Christy has worked widely with her university’s internal media team and applied for open access funding scholarships. She has expanded her audience by getting involved with the Royal Geographical Society’s ‘Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group’, and has written for the RGS’ Postgrad Forum blog, Arctic Forum, Weekly Academic Digest, and a physical science magazine called ‘Eco’.
  • Get involved in our #myurbanlab initiative where you share an image of what your urban lab is, the subject of your research, on Twitter or Instagram.
  • Write for the Urban Lab’s Medium blog about your research or an urban story.
  • Get in touch with our Committee about an event, urban walk, or networking idea.




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Crossdisciplinary centre for critical and creative urban thinking, teaching, research and practice at UCL |

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