Advice for Day One of the PhD

It’s that time of the year when people in the Northern Hemisphere are starting their PhD programs. Here in the Southern Hemisphere people start at random times of the year. Nonetheless, I thought it might be time to write a blog post that outlines some advice I would have given myself on Day One of the PhD journey.

Consider teaching while doing the PhD

Teaching can help you cultivate important employable skills such as communication skills. Explaining a complex concept in a simple way in the classroom is a skill that takes a bit of honing. Also, another aspect of teaching is grading assignments. Although at first that process might seem a little tedious, it can actually improve your own writing skills. See this post for more detail.

Sort out your system of planning and plan out your year

Learn to become a proactive rather than reactive researcher. Start to plan out your days (see this post for more details). Also broaden your scope and start to plan out your year. Try and get a big picture view on the goals you want to achieve and then break those down into smaller goals for each month (or each semester).

Set up good writing habits now

Ultimately, the point of the PhD is to write a PhD. So it is worth your time investing in your writing. Read books on how to improve your writing. I’ve found ways to continually write throughout the PhD and make it less scary. 

View the PhD as a time to acquire skills

Develop your statistical and analytical skills. Learn different statistical programs. Create a list of skills that you want to achieve by the end of your program, rather than just aiming for that title.

Treat the PhD as a job

This advice, as controversial as it may be, was vital to my mental health. I chose to view it as a 9-5 job rather than as an all consuming part of my life and it made for a better PhD. Also, be prepared to ride the academic rollercoaster of having busy times and quiet times and learn to plan for that. 

Foster your friendships

Your PhD buddies are your most valuable resource. Don’t view them as competition. This also applies to your online network. Join academic twitter. I didn’t join until the last six months of my PhD journey and I regretted not joining earlier. There is so much kindness and sharing of resources and tips, you are honestly doing yourself a disservice not being part of that community.

Read our blog

This last piece of advice is probably a little cheeky. I guess I should say, read blogs in general. But especially the Thesis Whisperer’s blog or the Research Whisperer or Research Insiders.

What other advice would you have? Any other good blogs I should add to this list? If you are just starting out now, good luck and connect with me on twitter (@alessateunisse).

– Alessa

3 thoughts on “Advice for Day One of the PhD

  1. Thanks for sharing your advice Alessa!

    I’m an incoming PhD student due to start my cancer research studies at London, UK in October. It’s great to read your thoughts on what those starting out on their PhD journey may wish to consider. Will be keeping the mentioned tips in mind! Cheers for the links to other content also 🙂


    1. Thanks for the comment Julie! Good luck and enjoy yourself. Although it is a hard journey, it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to spend a few years just researching something you have a passion for. Don’t lose focus of the big picture!

      Liked by 1 person

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