PhD tips number 1


I got asked on twitter whether I had any tips as a postgraduate student so far. I only started in Jan on a p/t basis, but my aim is to finish in the minimum time allocated for part time students, 4 years. I had a good think, and there are a few tips I can give from my journey so far.

Don’t be unrealistic

I am sure you have every intention of researching for 12 hours a day, or having a full time job and working 6-11 every night, but will this work for you? This shouldn’t be torture.

Don’t count progress in hours

I was told by a final year PhD student Anna that it isn’t helpful or a good indicator to count your progress in hours. I agree. Most of my work takes place in my subconscious, waiting for all the threads of reading, thinking, listening at conferences, to come together. Then when I write it just pours out. For me, it wouldn’t be helpful to use a pomodoro technique of committing myself to write a certain amount of words per day. I would feel forced and would write rubbish. You must find what works for you. Same for hitting the wall, don’t beat yourself up, a few evenings off or a weekend to see family and friends isn’t going to destroy your studies.

Reading and thinking

Reading is time-consuming, and thinking is too. You might not be seeing results on paper, but at this early stage, I am formulating my ideas, developing arguments. A lot of this involves taking a step back and reflecting. These things cannot be rushed!

Blogs and twitter

Absolutely invaluable. To receive instant feedback, to bounce ideas off other people, is crucial for formulating your ideas. It can be nerve-wracking at first to put unfinished or vague ideas out there, but the feedback you get in invaluable. Also, having to explain yourself to others makes your own thinking clearer, you break complex points down into understandable chunks. Reams of mind-bending dense theory is all well and good, but if you can’t explain your research easily, what’s the point? Twitter in particular is great for the instant feedback, and for networking with those in similar research areas to yourself. It is informal and ideas can be bounced to and fro.

Putting yourself out there

One new friend has joked calling me an ‘academic socialite’ (love it by the way). But doing guest blogs for other sites, promoting your own blog, speaking at conferences, is vital is building up your experience and profile. It can seem rather uncomfortable at first, but it is helpful. I would say let people come to you, don’t be forceful and too upfront. A blog is great, people see it and ask if you have submitted an abstract or would you like to submit a guest blog. Or it simply opens up a space for other students and academics to ask about your interest and give their own experience.

Don’t be intimidated

Easier said than done! At the University of Sheffield conference Translation and Transformation, Professor Richard Jenkins said it. I know Imposter Syndrome hits a lot of us, but what I mean here is you’re not expected to be an expert. You are a student, an apprentice, you are not expected to know everything. It is ok to say you don’t know.

Don’t compare yourself

Be in competition with yourself, nobody else. Help and support others, do not patronise, discourage or be unkind to other students. It does not reflect well on you. Plus, creating a supportive learning community will benefit yourself as much as others. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, we can help each other.

Have a life

Having time for yourself, to see friends or family, to relax, to do ‘other’ things, is essential. Your mental and physical health are so important, no study or job is worth risking your health. Postgraduate study can be stressful and isolating, time with friends is a necessity for me, not a luxury. I call my friends ‘nature’s prozac’. They make my anxiety quieten down instantly. Anxiety can make you unable to switch off, and want to be on the go all the time, but time out will make you more productive. I have met academics who have admitted they don’t have a life at all outside work, that to me is sad and I would find it very unhealthy. I have a friend who refuses to work outside of 9-5 in her full time lecturing post, and is doing very well in academia. Her response is that if you are working every evening and weekend, you are doing something wrong. She makes every hour in her job count.

Find your own system of working, your own schedule or anti-schedule, consistently chip away and enjoy. I am still in the newbie enthusiastic stage, so will give more tips later on when I’m deeper in and a lot more stressed.

Thanks for reading. Any feedback, questions or comments, please do comment here, or contact me @princess