A PhD is an extremely demanding process, and there are many sources of support to help get through things successfully.
Your supervisor is your first contact point during your PhD, with the main focus obviously being on the academic merit of your research. PhD supervisors are all different, just like the PhD students, and will be able to provide different degrees of support depending on their knowledge, availability and personality. You should make sure that your supervisor is kept informed of all of your plans, and involve them in your decisions, but you must always remember that it is your PhD, your responsibility, your decisions, because it is you who will need to defend your work in the PhD viva at the end.
It is a requirement that every PhD student has a named second supervisor. They are usually another academic from within your Department, who is not part of your lab group. They should be seen as having a supporting role, a person who can offer objective advice and support on the broader aspects of your research. You can discuss with your PhD supervisor, who your second supervisor could be so you can find the best person for you and supervisor. You should try and sort out who you second supervisor is within your first term. It is quite common for your second supervisor to be one of the examiners for the viva of your first year report, so do make an effort to get to know them.
College graduate tutors
All colleges will provide at least one academic who is nominated as the Graduate Tutor. This role is focused on pastoral support, which might range from issues regarding your visa or council tax bill, right through to advising you on issues you may have with professional relationships in your Department. Make sure you do meet your College Graduate Tutor within your first term because they can be an invaluable source of support and advice. Your college's website will probably list who the College Graduate Tutor is.
Other Departmental advisers
All Departments vary, but many have a committee that may be called a 'Graduate Education Committee', who oversee issues and policies of graduate education within the department, including monitoring the progress of individuals. Often, each PhD student within a Department is assigned to one of the members of that committee, and they may keep in touch with you throughout your PhD. It is quite common that this person is one of the examiners for the viva of your first year report, so do make an effort to get to know them.
Every Department and Institute that is part of the GSLS is expected to have at least one PhD student representative. The role will differ across the GSLS but a minimum expectation is that they should:
- Be active member of the GRASP forum
- Represent the PhD students at meetings within the Department/Institute
- Encourage a sense of community amongst the PhD students in their Department/Institute through organised activities
The PhD rep will be able to advise you on what activities are going on in the Department and advise you on who can speak to if you have any concerns or issues.
The Careers Service is a crucial resource, which is available to undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers. Their key resources are:
- Vast and comprehensive website with information about most career sectors
- Library you can visit with further information
- Staff who can give you one-to-one advice about specifics such as CVs, cover letters and interviews, as well as broader discussions about careers
- Workshops specifically for life scientists
- Email notification of events and vacancies
- GRADlink network of alumni who are searchable by career sector and are available to answer you questions by email
The Graduate Union (GU) is the University-wide representative body for graduate students at the University of Cambridge. The GU is run by a Committee of elected officers and its focuses on:
The Graduate Student and Postdoc forum (GRASP) was developed in 2011 to provide postgraduate students and early career researchers in Life Sciences with a Graduate School-wide focus for communication of ideas, mutual concerns and new regulations, as well as promoting coordination of academic activities, including student-run conferences.
The Cambridge University Student Union.
Other Support in the College
All Colleges vary but most will have:
- Graduate Society Welfare Officer
- College Nurse
- College Counselor
- Religious representative
Peers, colleagues, and friends
Don't underestimate the value of a support network of peers, colleagues and friends. Relaxing, socialising, and talking things through can help put things in perspective. They may have encountered similar issues, or give you the confidence to carry one. You may be able help others out as well.
The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) provides a confidential, professional and accessible service for disabled students and those staff supporting them. The objectives of the DRC are to:
- Provide advice and guidance for prospective and current disabled students to enable them to access a wide range of service
- Develop and implement support programmes for disabled students to ensure equal opportunity, access and attainment
- Provide advice, guidance and training for University and College staff in meeting the institutions' duties to disabled students within the context of disability equality legislation.
The DRC supports individuals with any impairment/disability, medical matter or injury, including those with:
- Specific learning difficulties (including dyslexia, dyspraxia)
- Physical/mobility impairments and injuries (including wheelchair users, Upper Limb Disorder - also known as RSI)
- Sensory impairments (including hearing impairment, visual impairment)
- Mental health difficulties (including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder)
- Long standing illnesses/health conditions (including cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, diabetes, epilepsy)
- Asperger syndrome and autism
The Service is staffed by a team of trained and accredited counselors and therapists. Most personal, relationship or identity problems can be helped through counseling. This includes anxiety, stress and depression, family and/or relationship difficulties, sexual problems and identity issues. Counseling can also help with other issues such as: adjusting to a new culture, dealing with dilemmas, making difficult decisions or choices, as well as more specific problems such as bereavement and difficulties affecting work, including bullying and harassment.
Don't wait until a problem has grown very serious - the Service would much rather you came when something is relatively minor, so that it can be resolved more quickly.
The Service is very well used and saw over 1300 students and 350 staff during last year alone
The University and College Union (UCU) represents more than 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.