In September 2019 I began a PhD in Agri-environmental and Ecological Research in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, funded by Scenario DTP. My research focused on the effects of air pollution on forest soils and used a variety of methods including a systematic review, field observations, a greenhouse experiment and computer-based biochemical modelling. Scenario supported my research directly by providing courses on coding, but what I valued most from Scenario were the opportunities for policy and science-communication focused training. The knowledge I gained from these training courses, plus support from the Scenario team, helped me to secure a three-month fellowship with the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, where I worked in Westminster to summarise scientific evidence and environmental policies for MPs, a definite highlight of my PhD. My experience in both policy and research, which I gained as a result of opportunities provided by Scenario, helped me to secure a job as an environmental scientist in the civil service before finishing my thesis.
Unlike at undergraduate level, we all start at different places as a PhD student. For example, some will have prior experience in research and may have a paper or even have worked with their prospective supervisors before. Others have not had those opportunities yet, whether that’s due to lack of access to the people that bring such opportunities, or the nature of their past work, or something else. Regardless of where you start, if you have enthusiasm, discipline, and determination, you can succeed in a PhD project. When you start as a PhD student, make the most of all resources available to you, including training, mental health, administrative, financial and technical support, to put yourself in the best position you can to do your research. Ask for help, whether that’s asking your supervisor or group to show you an unfamiliar method, or how to access counselling services, and ask for chances to expand your CV, e.g. through teaching, writing media articles, or co-supervising undergraduate/MSc research projects. Finally, make sure to make the time to socialise with your cohort; they may become the core part of your support network over the next four years!