5 Tips for A New PhD Student

Community Blog

Keep up-to-date on postgraduate related issues with our quick reads written by students, postdocs, professors and industry leaders.

5 Tips for A New PhD Student

Zebastian D.
New PhD Student

Starting your PhD can feel like a daunting, exciting and special time. They’ll be so much to think about – has all the paperwork been completed? Which desk is yours? Where’s the best place to get coffee? You’ll also need to think about how to best get going with your multi-year research commitment. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Start Writing

You’ll no doubt get to writing up your research as papers for peer-review towards the latter half of your PhD but definitely get into the habit of regularly writing up your notes from day one. This could be something like writing a diary of your thoughts every day or a summary of your week on a Sunday – whatever works for you, as long as you can be consistent about it. For lab-based projects, in particular, you’ll need to keep a lab book which keeps a record of your experimental workflow; important for you, your supervisor and your examiners to refer back to.

Writing regularly early in your PhD will help you develop your scientific writing skills and help you think about your work analytically from early on. Along the way, you’ll also have written useful content that could be transferred directly into journal manuscripts and future grant proposals.

2. Know Your Research Field

A key element of your PhD is to develop knowledge that is novel and adds to the body of work by others in your research field. You need to have a good understanding of what others have already done and what new things are being worked on – this single best way to do this is to read papers. Lots of papers!

Staying up to date with current knowledge by reading papers will help you ensure the novelty of your work and avoid unnecessarily duplicating what is already known. You’ll also get a feel of the key journals that your peers publish in and the expectations of writing style, content and format for these papers.

3. Read More than Just Papers

Doing a PhD is an enormous commitment; one that will give you challenges in managing your time, money, motivation and energy. Reading papers related to your research is essential however looking into other material could be useful in helping you manage your life during the 3-5 years of research. Good resources to start at include Google Scholar and ResearchGate.

You’ll find there are A LOT of books published on the topics of productivity and general life skills so choose wisely. Better options may be to follow blogs and even listen to podcasts to pick up tips and advice on getting through your PhD smoothly.

4. Get Feedback

Whether it’s through meetings with your supervisor or discussions over coffee with your colleagues in the lab, getting regular feedback on your ideas and work is essential to keeping you on track with your project. It’s all too easy in this type of independent research to get lost down a rabbit hole which may not lead to the results you’re after. Sense checking with people you trust is always a good idea.

5. Set Mini Milestones

The big milestones will be clear for you: (1) pass the upgrade viva to transfer from being an MPhil student to a PhD student (a common approach in UK universities) and then (2) pass your PhD viva! A lot of things need to happen for you to hit these milestones and so setting smaller short-term goals can help both with focus and motivation – it’s all about the mini-wins! This could be things like your first meeting with your supervisor, your first abstract submission to a conference or collecting your first series of experimental data.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Dissertation Title Page
The Dissertation Title Page

The title page of your dissertation or thesis conveys all the essential details about your project. This guide helps you format it in the correct way.

Read More »
What is Tenure Track?
What Is Tenure Track?

Tenure is a permanent position awarded to professors showing excellence in research and teaching. Find out more about the competitive position!

Read More »
New PhD Student
5 Tips for A New PhD Student

Starting your PhD can feel like a daunting, exciting and special time. They’ll be so much to think about – here are a few tips to help you get started.

Scope of Research
How to Write the Scope of the Study

The scope of the study is defined at the start of the study. It is used by researchers to set the boundaries and limitations within which the research study will be performed.

Other Posts
MBA vs PhD
The MBA vs PhD Debate

Considering whether to do an MBA or a PhD? If so, find out what their differences are, and more importantly, which one is better suited for you.

Read More »
Interviews
DiscoverPhDs_Julia_Ravey_Profile
Julia Ravey

Julia’s in her final year of her PhD at University College London. Her research is helping to better understand how Alzheimer’s disease arises, which could lead to new successful therapeutics.

Read More »
Bethany Cliffe Profile
Bethany Cliffe

Bethany is a 1st year PhD student at the University of Bath, researching the adaptation of a self-help smartphone app (BlueIce) to prevent self-harm and improve the mood of University students.

Read More »
Dr Amy Easey

Dr Easey has a PhD from the University of East Anglia where she genetically modified viral ligase enzymes for industry. She is now a biomedical scientist working in the Haematopathology and Oncology Diagnostic Service at Addenbrookes hospital.

Read More »