Some advice for new PhD students

Here’s a quick post for first year PhD students, from second and third year students who would like to pass on some wise words;

How to explain to others exactly what you do…

When you are trying to explain your work to others start with the most basic description that you can, for example, I tell people that I study climate change, if they ask for more details I follow with, well I study ice in Antarctica. Only after this point, if they haven’t started to nodd off can you actually go into any detail about your fantastic PhD topic.

Try to treat your PhD like a job

Whether you are funded or not you are being paid or are paying to do about 40 hours of work a week so you should. Try to give yourself a timetable that works with your schedule, if you are a morning person go into your office early, likewise if you prefer to work later in the day come in later but make sure that you come in each day and actually work on something for your PhD.

Read, write literature review, collect data, analyse data, write up data, publish thesis, right?

NO. This is very unlikely to happen and it won’t make the most use of your time. Try to mix it up a little, read when you are in the mood for reading (ideally with a nice cup of tea and biscuits close to hand), collect the data when you have to/want to and analyse the data when you are feeling particularly productive. Try to write all the way through your PhD, this will allow you to have all your notes on papers, your methods and graphs ready to hand whenever you fancy a longer chapter writing session at the end of your first year, or in your second and third years.

Get networking!

Sign up for seminars, conferences and workshops that sound interesting and netowrk like crazy. Don’t worry about being the new, often young student, people will probably not remember if you say something daft, but they will remember that you got involved and were confident about saying something daft and that’s fun anyway. You will make some great contacts and hopefully friends who will be of great help to you further down the line.

Go to conferences

Try to attend at least two conferences a year, it might be good to present a poster at your first one to build up some confidence but then just go for it and give an oral presentation, you will hopefully get great feedback and people will start to know who you are. Don’t spend too much time on your posters and presentations though – remember conferences are unlikely to get you a job (although publications will) but they will allow you to meet people who may well be your employer or co-worker in the future. So just be friendly and chatty to everyone!

New software

Learn how to write code/ manipulate code if you can. It will help you to organise your data sets, allow you to work more quickly and efficiently and it will help you to produce some world class figures. Not to mention how fantastic it will look on your CV…

Need a paper and can’t access it via your institution?

E-mail old colleagues working at different institutions, e-mail the author or e-mail BSG postgrads and we will see what we can do to help.

What to do when work isn’t going so well?

My advice would be to get organised. This is the perfect time to tidy your office, your desk or your computer files. Backing-up all of your work will take some time too, allowing you to relax a little and take some time off work, whilst really helping you out further down the line when you need to find an old file or go back to work on a complicated dataset. Backing-up your dataset is a must, no matter what year of your PhD you are in. Try to make sure you have at least two copies of your raw data and your finished work, preferably keeping a hard drive at work and at home encase disaster strikes in either location.

Writing your first paper

Don’t get emotionally attached to your first paper, it will change a million times and your co-authors may not like your style of writing / colourful graphs so try not to worry about it, unless the changes that they are proposing you make are truly dreadful just make the suggested changes and chances are your paper will be finished 10 x faster with a lot less stress.

We hope this is useful for you. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask us on here, facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bsgpostgrads or twitter: @bsgpostgrads

Blog post by Kate Reid, Northumbria University

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