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Friends, digs and life lessons: thoughts on my PhD so far

9 July 2019

Everyone’s PhD journey is different, and we’re excited to capture and celebrate this diversity of experience on our blog. In this post, Adelle Bricking, a 2nd year PhD student from the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, shares some memories and lessons from her PhD journey so far.

I am going to get this down in writing as a reminder before I slide into one of those all-too-frequent slumps that have plagued my second year…

I love being a PhD student. I genuinely do. (I see you cringing and rolling your eyes, future self, but you know it’s true). It is all I have ever wanted since I can remember, and it has been more enriching, wonderful, and challenging than I could have imagined. In this blog post, I’m going to quickly highlight some of my favourite things about being a PhD student, and what I have learned since starting this journey at Cardiff University.

Favourite memory – Excavating a chariot burial!

As a PhD student of Archaeology, I had the opportunity to excavate some of the most amazing archaeological discoveries. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the excavations of an Iron Age chariot burial in Pembrokeshire, and I may even make a TV appearance in the near future! It was a wonderful, serendipitous experience and I am beyond grateful for Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales for letting us PhD students take part. On the other hand, I fear my archaeological career may have peaked before it’s even begun…oh well, I’ll just have to hope for more chariots!

More details of this excavation are featured on the BBC News site.

Here is a photo of me excavating a decorated bronze chariot fitting.
You can see the top of the tyre in the background.

Most valued aspect – friendships

In addition to some incredible experiences, I have met the most inspiring and incredible people since beginning the PhD here at Cardiff. I don’t think there’s any stronger bond than those forged in the fires of academic torment. They say it’s crucial to have a strong cohort of fellow PhD students, and it’s so true. No one really ‘gets’ the anguish of annual reviews and the unseen trials of conducting sensitive research only to have realised you made a mistake like your peers. As an undergraduate in the USA, I was told that a PhD would be a lonely, isolating endeavour that involved ferocious and cutthroat competition, but that is not my experience here in Cardiff. I hope that everyone can be as fortunate to have a family of fellows students—I met several of my closest friends at Doctoral Academy workshops and events!

L-R: Me, Radium and Rhys on a leisurely trip to Avebury stone circle last autumn. I met Radium when we were doing Breaking Boundaries together with the Doctoral Academy and we both share a love of prehistory.

Words I’ve come to live by (and cling to desperately)…

Aside from the wealth of knowledge I’ve gathered relating to my research topic, I have learned many valuable life lessons. Three lessons I’ve learned the hard way and have come to live by are:

  1. We are all on different paths. It is natural to compare personal failures with peers’ successes, but I have learned that each of our journeys are unique and there’s no ‘right’ way to do a PhD. Accepting this makes it easier to feel genuinely happy when one of your officemates gets that grant you both applied for, rather than feeling super bummed and hung up on where you went wrong. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. It’s okay to not be amazing all of the time. I have learned the most valuable lessons from making mistakes, and no one expects perfection. I believe the real endgame of doing a PhD is not to produce excellent research, but rather to make excellent researchers.
  3. Reflection is essential. I often feel bogged down by all the things I have yet to learn and how far I have left to go that I forget how far I’ve come. It is so important to take some time to consider how much you’ve grown as an academic but also as a person. What do you know now that you didn’t know a year ago? In what ways have you matured since starting the PhD journey? Have you done anything that you are proud of? I find that it helps to get these down in writing. In fact, blogging about it has really helped me to realise how much I’ve grown in confidence. Give it a go!

Follow me on Twitter for archaeology related posts and self-deprecating jokes (and maybe the occasional Love Island rant…we all have our guilty pleasures)!



  1. Jane Henderson

    Why do you think the PhD environment is less cut throat than you were warned? Do you think it is the discipline? National differences? Plain luck? Something else?

  2. Adelle

    Hi Jane! I think it is a combination of those things. Since I haven’t experienced grad school in the USA (where I’m from) I can’t say what it’s like from a personal point of view, but in general, I think there is a more competitive culture around higher education. I also think that there’s a generational difference—with the help of social media, there’s a sense of community that I don’t think existed when those who were giving warn were in university. The growth in popularity for open access publications is maybe more evidence for this shift. And, of course, I am really lucky to have such a friendly and helpful cohort! Whatever the reason, I am super lucky that my experience is much more relaxed than I’d geared up for. 🙂

  3. rithumoni

    Hi… First of all Thank u for sharing this article.
    i have a lot of doubts in PhD research paper.
    just now i read this blog.My doubts are clarrified.Once again thank u for posting this article and keep posting regularly

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