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Navigating the Journey: Reflections on My First Year as a PhD Student - Natalie Jarvis

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

Embarking on a Ph.D. journey is a thrilling yet nerve-wracking experience. As a first-year Ph.D. student, I immersed myself in a world of research, academic excellence, and personal growth. In this blog, I will share my experiences, challenges, and valuable lessons I learned during this transformative year.

Meeting Admirable Supervisors:

One of the most daunting aspects of starting a Ph.D. is meeting your supervisors, whom you may have looked up to and admired for a long time. The nerves that accompany this meeting are undeniable. However, I quickly discovered that my supervisors were knowledgeable mentors and genuinely supportive individuals. Their guidance helped me navigate the research path and find my footing.

The Rabbit Holes of Literature Review:

Embarking on my first literature review was an adventure into a maze of knowledge. Getting lost in the plethora of papers, concepts, and theories was easy. To visualise the different strands within the literature, I discovered the power of mind mapping. Mind maps provided a valuable tool to organise my thoughts, connect ideas, and identify gaps in the existing knowledge. Along the way, I also stumbled upon valuable resources such as Research Rabbit and Connected Papers, which would have significantly eased my initial literature exploration.

The Quest for a Research Question: Crafting a research question is challenging. Initially, I thought I had the perfect topic, only to realise it was oversaturated with existing research. It was back to the drawing board. The process led me to generate around 15 research questions, but my supervisors wisely advised me to narrow them down. Focusing on investigating diversity in volunteering in the U.K., I faced the challenge of selecting the specific aspect of diversity to pursue. After careful consideration, I finally narrowed it down to five potential research directions.

Balancing Commitments:

Throughout my first year, I struggled with juggling various commitments. As a mother, a volunteer, a Ph.D. student, and a senior teaching assistant, time management became crucial. Learning to prioritise and say "no" to specific opportunities was valuable. I realised the importance of caring for myself first and filling my cup before assisting others. This newfound perspective allowed me to allocate my time effectively, ensuring progress in all areas of my life.

Imposter Syndrome and Teaching:

Teaching seminars was both a rewarding and nerve-wracking experience. Imposter syndrome crept in, making me question my abilities and knowledge. The fear of being unable to answer complex student questions haunted me. However, as time progressed, I gained confidence. Messages from students on platforms like LinkedIn, expressing their gratitude and sharing their results, reminded me of the positive impact I was making as a teacher. It was a beautiful realisation that I was becoming the teacher I once admired and appreciated.

Looking Ahead:

As I enter my second year, I reflect on the tremendous growth and experiences of my first year. Recently, I presented at my first conference and also presented a poster at Swansea University's People and Organisation Symposium. I am presenting another poster at WES conference in September and I am looking forward to the trip to Glasgow! Currently, I am conducting a second pilot study to refine my research approach in understanding the experiences of disabled volunteers using an interpretative phenomenological approach. The journey is filled with constant movement, and each milestone achieved brings new challenges and opportunities.


Despite the whirlwind of emotions, time constraints, and hurdles I faced during my first year as a Ph.D. student, it has undoubtedly been the best experience of my life so far. The personal and academic growth, the connections made, and the exciting prospects for the future make the journey all the more worthwhile. As I embark on the next phase of my research and data collection, I am filled with anticipation and enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

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