Reflections on My First Year of PhD Study

Having just received the feedback for the 2nd semester’s two assignments, the module of research training is officially completed now. I had enjoyed the experience of developing myself to be increasingly creative, curious and confident in academic exploration. Here I would like to quickly share some of the reflections about my PhD journey in the first year.

Before everything began: 3 years or 4 years? 

Before I came to Manchester, it was difficult for me to determine whether I should go for a 3-year offer of PhD at other universities or a 4-year one at UoM. Now, based on my 1st year’s experience of the 4-year PhD programme, I can say without regret that this additional year had very much benefited me by developing a more rigorous understanding of qualitative/quantitative research design and the techniques of data analysis. It did not only give me 6 ‘tangible’ courses of research training, but also, more importantly, created an ‘intangible’ space of freedom for me to take time to explore and to develop my thinking before I actually starting to determine the shape or even the direction of my PhD research. My research topic had been altered into a totally different direction of ‘Mindfulness in Intercultural Communication’ from my original proposal about ‘The Diversity of International English Accents in Intercultural Communication’. However, I am more passionate about the new focus and also believe that it will be more meaningful for my personal/career development. Throughout the year, I could see a real transformation in myself in developing towards a more professional researcher. So I would like to say that a year of additional training is really worth it in the end if you are looking for a very rich experience of PhD study.

Reflections on Research Training

There were many things I had learnt from the module, but I just listed five of the most important things in my experience:

1. The awareness of multilingual research – not only by engaging multilingual data, but also by integrating multilingual literature

2. The ability of looking at a topic from a boarder scope – to see the connections and transformations among the perspectives rather than merely using one genre of belief to interrogate another.

3. Reflexivity – to be increasingly aware of the possibilities and challenges created by my own stance in research

4. Justification and still justification – this might be heard a lot for many PhD students from their supervision meetings, which also pushed me to become more able to reason and to acknowledge my choice of the features involved in my research design rather than just simply putting all deficiencies of a study into the chapter of Limitations

5. Emotional Management in the 1st Year – the truth was that it  was not completely relaxing to go through all the 6 assessed courses. However, I sought to work with relatively high efficiency and concentration but less anxiety and negative emotions. This was also largely supported by my research exploration about mindfulness – a concept which encourages ‘the overcome of suffering and the pursuit of mental well-being for humans ’.

Other Possibilities

There were also plenty of other opportunities that I had significantly benefited from in the first year despite studying the research module.

1. Supervisors: One of the most common things that I encountered in the supervision meeting with Richard and Juup was to break my existed construction of ideas apart and then, to develop a totally new architecture of thoughts which could be maturer and more interesting. This process of keeping being ‘deconstructed’ could be painful but was extremely beneficial and effective for me to develop a better thinking towards the possible direction of my research. Also, after being deconstructed for many times, it started to be a bit less difficult for me to interrogate my own thoughts, to break down the ‘building blocks’ and to see the other possibilities they could reconstruct.

2. Senior students/PGR sessions: Learning from senior students’ experience helped me settle my anticipation of the PhD journey. Reading their work and listening to their presentations also gave me a clearer idea of what are expected from a competent PhD student. Here I want to specially thank Khwan, Fitri and Diana who had gave me lots of support in my first year’s research study.

3. Peers/Research students from different fields: It could be also interesting to hear opinions from peers or even PhD students of non-education majors because their feedback could be very inspiring and useful for me to look at my research from different angels.

4. Seminars/workshops: I went to seminars which were relevant to my study or I was interested in such as Interdisciplinary Research, Research Multilingually, Mindfulness Research and Pathways.

5. Volunteering: Doing voluntary work in the programme of Multilingual Manchester also broadened my understanding of the cultural and language diversity at Manchester. However, I did not participate in it much later due to the workload in the assessed module.

6. Research assistant: Working as a research assistant in the School of Social Sciences has not only practiced several basic research skills of mine, but also gives me a chance to see how research work in a different field. This can potentially bring some more ideas to enrich my own study.

I Want to Improve…

In the first year, there were several things I could not really achieve to do very well but should have been largely benefited from if they were managed appropriately. I like to share 3 of them with you here.

1. Research diary: It was very helpful for me to record, track and think when I did keep my research diary in the first semester. However, I could not keep this good habit up later. So I am still looking for a systematic and consistent way to write a research diary.

2.Reading: I feel that I did not read enough because only a very limited amount of my first-year time was spent on reading literature, especially those which could be less directly related to my study and those regarding research  methodology.

3. Don’t stop thinking: In the second semester, I was less engaged in brain-storming and exploring around my research topic but more focused on my two assessed courses. I am not very sure whether it was a good strategy or not, because I might have went further on my path of building up towards my research topic if I could be as curious as I was in the first semester.  Nonetheless, if more time was spent on exploring around, it could be challenging to take a balance between it and my course work and to do well in the two assessments.


Thanks to my supervisors, friends, peers and colleagues who have very much supported me and whom I have always learnt from, I could complete my first year satisfactorily. I am very excited about my PhD experience at Manchester and still looking forward to all challenges and opportunities coming in the next 3 years.


Best wishes,



  • Bona Maandera

    Min, thanks for sharing your first year’s experience here. It certainly reflects your reflexivity and the mindfulness route you are taking in your research. As someone who has walked the journey of the six Msc Research training courses with you, I also found it a very useful experience for me. And you put your finger right on it: “the truth was that it was not completely relaxing to go through all the 6 assessed courses”. In the end it offered some secondary training in how to juggle several things at the same time, I suppose? I think you found a very smart way of managing it. I’ll be taking you on that one 🙂

    Once again, thanks for this sharing.

  • Brilliant post, Min 🙂 I really enjoyed reading your reflections and loved your writing style. If you start your own blog, I will be the first to subscribe to your posts. As my friends have said, I look forward to learning from you about ‘Mindfulness in Intercultural Communication’ in the near future. Your new focus sounds very exciting! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing these insights, Min. I guess what struck me the most about this post was the powerful articulation of experience.

    Like Fitri, I too have an interest in mindfulness and look forward to hearing more about your research. My PhD was also a four year one, and I had the same doubts that you described when I started. I have to say, I still feel the value of that ‘extra’ year now – three years after the completion of my PhD.

  • Hi Min,

    I love reading your reflection. Really interesting. I can see myself in some parts as well 😀 (such as the changing focus part (though in my case it was driven by a different matter) – and becoming more focused and enjoying the new focus more 🙂 ) Btw, I would like to learn about the ‘mindfulness’ concept from you to help me manage the inevitable pressure that we sometimes (often??) bump into along our 4 year adventure 🙂


  • Juup Stelma

    Hi Min,

    These are really nice reflections. I especially like your argument about the value of the extra year that a 4 year study plan offers. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and I am looking forward to another three years of ever more mindful conversations 🙂


  • Zhoumin Huang

    Thank you, Susan. I am also excited about my new focus and will definitely share my progresses about it with you soon – hopefully in the next semester. 🙂

  • Zhoumin Huang

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your advice about research diary. I will try this method and will share my experience of keeping a research diary later. Also, it’s great to hear that you do acknowledge the usefulness of the first year training. I also look forward to seeing more of its values in the following stages. Thank you for your encouragement. 🙂

    PS. Good luck to your viva!


  • Zhoumin Huang

    Thank you, Richard. I do find our supervision meetings to be a very effective process of deconstruction, reconstruction and transformation. 🙂 I have re-understood and re-thought many things throughout the supervision.

  • Susan Dawson

    I really enjoyed reading this Min and I think your new focus sounds fascinating. I really hope we get to hear you talk about this at some stage.

  • Very interesting post Min – by the time you get to the closing stages you will have been deconstructed and reconstructed many times 🙂 Good luck, and the extra research training offered by UOM is really worth it in the long term.
    You will really see the value of this at all stages but especially when it comes to the writing up of your methodology in the final thesis.
    And my tip for a research diary – use the calendar function on your iPhone to make notes, such as when you’re on the bus, train etc. They really build up over time, and serve as a great source of reflection further down the line.
    Good luck,

  • Richard Fay

    Hmmmmm …. supervision as a process of being deconstructed ? interesting 🙂