From Master’s to the PhD: A Lifestyle Change


You have made the dedicated decision to pursue a master’s degree… and then it hits you. You suddenly caught the academic bug, the academic fever, the I-need-to-be-doing-this-for-the-rest-of-my-days malady for which the only cure is the PhD. I started my PhD research at Durham in September and realised that there are already many differences between my life and work as a taught master’s student and beginning my PhD adventure in French literature and cinema. Fancy yourself as a PhD researcher after your master’s degree? Let me take you through some of these differences!

The first change from the master’s degree to the PhD is pace. A master’s is often a year or less and a PhD is at least three years. I entered my first supervision meeting to find that some of the questions I proposed were too complex to answer immediately, and that would be answered as the PhD developed. It will take three years to read, to research and to understand this project. Some researchers even claim that it is only in the final months of the PhD that you truly know what you are writing about! For a new PhD student, however, this was mind-blowing. The essay questions for the master’s degree wouldn’t suddenly change overnight. The texts I decided upon for my dissertation would not change halfway through writing about them. I was also prepared for the intensity that a master’s degree demanded: many books to read and a lot of essays to write in a short time frame. Now I was being told to relax and to not burn myself out; this is not a sprint but a marathon. The PhD provides you with the time you need to explore your research questions by investigating a variety of sources that interest you and that you truly feel passionate about.

Now I was being told to relax and to not burn myself out; this is not a sprint but a marathon

The taught master’s degree provides you with the skills for independent research, but the PhD takes this to another level with its freedom beyond lectures and seminars. If there are no classes, however, how do you make friends? A PhD is only as lonely as you make it and throwing yourself into college activities, societies and socialising when you can in graduate study spaces are just some of the easy ways of breaking up your study time. A master’s degree may not give you much breathing space but now I feel like I have the time to take drawing and dance classes, to travel and to finally switch-off at night.  It is important to get a good work-life balance, attempting to do 9-5 is a good way to begin the PhD but being aware that some days you may work less, some days you may work more, is all part of the adventure.

A PhD is only as lonely as you make it

The work you do for your PhD is not governed by strict course content for an exam. Instead, it provides flexibility to explore key research questions for which the master’s degree does not have the time scale. The PhD has its own adventures outside of Durham too. I recently took a week’s research trip to Paris which helped my project progress as well as improving my spoken and written French.

The work itself never stops in my first year as there are always more books to read, reviews to write and planning to do, but so far it has certainly been worth the intense master’s year.

Image: Лариса Мозговая via Pixabay

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