I arrived in Durham in October to start my Master’s by Research in French. It’s a great course because you’re completely free to choose your own topic and then it’s up to you to structure your time and your research; apart from meetings with my supervisors, I don’t have any compulsory contact hours. This means that I get to choose exactly how I spend my days here in Durham.
I find that I work best in the mornings so I usually get up at around seven and work for about an hour before breakfast. Research students in Durham are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to study so after breakfast I either spend the rest of the morning working in my room or in one of Durham’s many libraries. Postgraduate students in Modern Languages also have the use of a designated study room in the building that houses the faculty Elvet Riverside so sometimes I work there or in my college’s MCR.
I live in a shared house in the Gilesgate area of Durham so if I’m there, I make my lunch in the kitchen. If I’m out, I either take a packed lunch with me or have lunch with a friend in one of Durham’s many cafés. After lunch, I like to break things up a bit. Research students often suffer from loneliness and end up feeling very isolated because they spend most of their time working by themselves on their own project. However in Durham there’s so much going on that you often have to choose between multiple events and activities; it’s so easy to get involved and meet new people here.
Making the most of opportunities
I usually do one or two other things in the afternoon/evening, fitting them around my reading and writing; I’m determined to make the most of all the opportunities Durham has to offer. Academically, the departments and research institutes organise reading groups, guest lectures, and seminars and usually everyone is welcome regardless of their discipline; it’s good to spend a couple of hours listening to someone else talking about their work because it gives you new ways to look at your own topic. My research focuses on the French Renaissance so every couple of weeks I go to the research seminar organised by MEMSA (Medieval and Early Modern Students’ Association) which is usually followed by a trip to a pub or a restaurant. My college, St Chad’s, has its own postgraduate research forum; there are loads of opportunities to broaden your intellectual horizons and share your interests with other students who are just as passionate as you are. I’m also a member of my college’s Academic Committee which organises these events on a college level; we meet once every fortnight.
Taking a break
It’s important to have a proper break from work so every week I go to a yoga class and an aerial arts class as well as volunteering with the SCA project Tea Parties which sees a group of students socialising with local elderly people over tea and cake. I’m a Student Librarian in Chad’s so spend about four hours per week working in the college library and have my own travel blog which I update on a weekly basis. I also find time to just relax, whether that’s chatting to my housemates in the kitchen, baking, reading for pleasure or meeting up with friends. Chad’s has an active MCR which organises lots of social events including pub quizzes, parties, and film nights and there are two formal dinners per week in college so there’s always something fun going on in college.
No two days are the same but that’s what makes life as a research student so rewarding; I get to study a subject I love alongside trying out new hobbies and interests and pursuing old ones. This variety keeps me interested in my work and means that I always look forward to seeing what’s coming next…