What I wish I’d known before coming to Durham

Zoe Le-Conte

Hi, my name is Zoe and I am a postgraduate astrophysics student, doing my PhD on the formation of galaxies. I could not visit Durham University before choosing it as the place I wanted to call home for the next four years and the institution to get my doctorate. Hence, a blog post addressing “What I wish I had known before starting Durham” would have been extremely helpful in making my decision easier. Many of my points will be beneficial to undergraduate and postgraduate students but my final discussion about holidays only concerns postgraduates.

County Durham

Durham has a quaint and bustling city centre with winding cobbled roads up to the cathedral. You’ll be able to find plenty of coffee shops to study in and a variety of independent and chain bars and restaurants for the weekend. However, there is so much more to County Durham. Just a 10-minute train ride away is the city centre of Newcastle with riverside markets and museums. On a hot summer day be sure to explore the coastline and take a trip to the seaside. To the west is the Pennines with beautiful waterfalls and hiking paths. I like to spend my weekends wandering around farm shops and discovering cafes in the surrounding mining villages. Some of these places are easier to visit by car but societies have trips all year long to make the most of what Durham has to offer.


You most likely have read information about the colleges and know that each has its own identity and emphasis, but my following tip will help you make a more informed decision about which college you would like to join. Colleges have community-driven events and activities which take place regularly. If you know that you would prefer a more informal or traditional scene, take a look at each of the college’s Instagram accounts and find out what events they have put on recently. This will give you an idea of the cost, general themes and time of year the college celebrates. It will certainly make you excited to get involved.

Food shop

Most students decide to live in college or in the affordable housing surrounding the university campus. This means that your choice of food shops within walking distance is limited. Durham city has many food options, the most important being Greggs. As long as you are aware of this then you can budget and meal prep. If you are happy to take a bus ride or drive then to the North of Durham is the Arnison centre which has a Lidl, Sainsbury and M&S or to the East is Dragonville with a huge Tesco superstore, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland. Both of these areas have student housing but your commute into the university will be longer. To reiterate, if you decide to live in a catered college then this should not be a problem for you and there are cafes on campus too.

Rowing on the River Wear in summer

Postgraduate holidays

Finally, if you are a postgraduate student – in particular, a PhD student – then you will find that your new contract will specify your holiday allowance. Undergraduate holidays can last for months but now you will be working through them. During university holiday time, buildings stay open but some of the cafes shut. It creates a peaceful and calm atmosphere on campus and can often be a time of great productivity. Make sure you take a few breaks and discuss holidays with your supervisor.

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Zoe Le-Conte

Hi, my name is Zoe and I am a postgraduate astrophysics student, doing my PhD on the formation of galaxies.

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