A little background, I'm currently studying a masters in computer science, and I've been wondering about how I should progress my career. I've found myself mostly interested in the research side of Computer Science, and I've been trying to figure out which would be the best steps moving forward.

I've looked into a couple of studentships with some interesting topics out there, but I don't generally see much information on the day-to-day life of a PHD student for this field. I understand each position may be a unique experience but I was wondering if anyone could share any experiences which may help?

Thank you very much in advance, Stay safe.

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    I've found myself mostly interested in the Research and Development side of Computer Science. For research, a PhD makes sense. For development, it doesn't. You'll need to decide which path you want to take. – user2768 Jul 22 at 14:28
  • @user2768 Apologies, yes, I meant the research side. – Paul Jul 22 at 14:40
  • This is a very broad question, and accordingly difficult to answer. So much of the PhD "experience" depends on individual circumstances: supervisor, project, department, living arrangements, work-life balance, your health and mental wellbeing etc. For "day in the life" type info, I can highly recommend Simon Clark's PhD vlogs on Youtube (physics PhD rather than Comp Sci, but they will give you a good idea). – astronat Jul 22 at 15:37
  • @astronat Yeah, I understand how difficult the question is to answer, they're evidently a unique experience, and I would never expect anything clear cut which is why I asked if anyone could share their experiences. I have watched Simon Clark's Vlogs, they've been extremely informative, and a great resource but I was hoping for something similar but within the field of Computer Science. I know it's a bit of an ask though. – Paul Jul 22 at 16:21

I don't generally see much information on the day-to-day life of a PHD student

Watch The PhD [Comic] Movies, sure they're make believe, but you can read between the lines

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    While the I've love PhD comics ever since I was a student my self, they do more represent the US experience of grad school than the UK experience. – Ian Sudbery Jul 23 at 9:32
  • Thanks, i'll check out those movies when I'm free. – Paul Jul 23 at 12:06

PhDs in the UK are different to their US cousins, so that is something to bare in mind. Specifically, UK PhDs have no coursework, and they have to be finished within 3.5 years, and the have a real exam - the viva voca at the end. Rather than just being superficial these tend to shape the life of a UK PhD student - you come in and are doing 100% research from day one. The time limit, combined with the viva exam mean that you are focusing on your thesis right from the start as well.

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First, let me say that this is probably better asked face to face (video call!) with someone in your current institution. You should be able to ask either your tutor or project advisor and they may be able to point you to their PhD student(s) if they have any. They can also say things which are either more related to your past experiences or area you want to study in.

That having been said, as an MSc student you will hopefully be doing a summer project at the moment. This is a self-contained piece of work with which you get some guidance from an advisor. A PhD can be considered like either one very big, less well contained project or several slightly bigger, somewhat well contained, linked projects. Due to this increase in size many people find a PhD mentally very difficult. There is one big goal - a thesis and viva at the end - but many steps to get along the way.

You seem in a good position in that you've found some posting which you find interesting. I strongly recommend contacting the potential supervisor and they should be able to answer many of your questions.

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  • Yeah, you're right, I'm working on my final project currently, and you're right again. I should talk to my current tutor more about this too. I'm not sure if our university has any CS PHD students though, we're smaller but i'll definitely start up that conversation soon. Thank you :) – Paul Jul 23 at 12:05

As requested, this is about Computer Science PhDs in the UK.

First, how professional life as a PhD student looks like will depend a lot on the supervisor. As such, it is very important to have a chat with them to see whether expectations align - and to understand that expectations go both ways. That said, there are some general features that will typically be present in some way, and knowing these should help asking about the right aspects.

Most of your time will be taken up actually doing the research. That includes reading up on the literature, discussing science with your advisor and others, potentially programming something or even creating some physical artefact, academic writing, and just thinking hard.

There will probably be some training opportunities (how to give presentations, how to write a paper, etc). Asking a lecturer for permission to sit in on their lectures is also acceptable. Some of the training opportunities may be mandatory, and maybe you're even expected to complete a module or so. This will be more extensive if you are part of a CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training); in other cases you may need to take the initiative to even learn about these opportunities.

There will be seminars, both on the departmental level and for smaller research units. Here you'll be able to listen to researchers (both from your institutation and from outside) to give talks about their work. Expect to be asked to present yourself. Sometimes there will be group meetings, where everyone working in a particular area meets maybe once a week. Journal clubs can be a good opportunity to get into reading the literature. These are typically organized by PhD students, so if there is none, maybe you can start it.

If you like travelling, then conferences are a great part of doing a CS PhD. There are national events such as BCTCS, but the primary focus tends to be on international meetings. Here you'll meet the few other people in the world that are enthusiastic and knowledgable about the same arcane aspect of computer science, and get to see something of the world in the process. Getting funding to attend a conference usually requires having a publication accepted for presentation there. How many conferences you'll get to attend will vary - I'd reckon that 2-10 during a PhD are usual values.

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  • Thank you, this is a great insight. – Paul Jul 23 at 12:21

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