Advice for One Month into Your PhD

About a month ago Alessa wrote on advice for day one of your PhD. Today I want to talk about advice one month in. Things I wish past-me had known at this point in the journey.

Turbulence is OK

By this point you are one month into a journey that spans years. You don’t need it all sorted out yet. Personally, I was flip flopping around between ideas with what I wanted to do for a few months before a clear plan appeared before me. Even then, my plan was more so planned flip flopping than anything else (I basically had statements like “let’s try X and if we get outcome Y then we do A, otherwise we do B” as my plan).

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

It is so common to compare oneself to your peers to determine progression. “Oh but Jane has started data collection, Mark has submitted ethics, oh my god, Harriet has already published a paper one month in!”. Other people’s journeys are their own. Wherever you are at right now is where you are meant to be. The odds are you are at a different point to those around you, but that is OK.

Start Thinking About Conferences and Papers

“But Chris, you just said turbulence is OK, how can we be thinking of conferences and papers!?” I hear you all crying out to me. Depending how you’re doing your thesis, you may be completing a thesis by publication. If so, you need to be thinking about what papers will come from your thesis at the same time as planning the major milestones of your candidature. It is worth remembering that one study may not equal one paper. My thesis had 5 papers over 9 studies. The other consideration is what conferences you want to attend. Conferences are fantastic for networking and career progression. They’re also a lot of fun. But many of the big conferences require abstracts anywhere from 3 to 6 months ahead of the conference (I have even been to one that required abstracts a year in advance!). So you need to be on the ball with this one, guys.

Don’t Plan Nine Studies

OK, so I did 9 studies as part of my PhD. That was absurd, even my markers commented it was way too much. But I had a story I was telling. I set out a problem in my first chapter and I only just solved it by the end of my last study. You don’t need 9 studies to get a PhD. I have (anecdotally, mind you) heard of people with 3 studies getting a PhD because it was just a nice tight set of studies that laid out a problem and addressed it. But if it is going to take you 9 studies to tell your story, then go for it.

Foster Your Friendships

I know Alessa spoke to this, so I will refer you to her post for specifics. But one month into your PhD I don’t want you to forget the importance of your friends. They are absolutely invaluable. Once you get stuck into the PhD it is very easy to quickly start to isolate yourself and get lost in your work. Schedule regular lunch breaks together, meet up after hours for social time (we played board games or went to salsa classes).

What About You?

How are you tracking one month into your PhD? For those further along, what advice would you give to others that are one month in?

~ Chris

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