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Things I wish I had known at the start of my PhD

Heather Doran

Thinking of doing a postdoctorate after finishing your current studies? Here’s a few tips from resident blogger, Heather Doran. Perhaps it will help you re-think whether you can really handle the pressure of it all

phd facts and tips

Future ... What you need to know before doing a PhD.

I AM entering the final stretch of my PhD and here is a list of things that I wish I had known (or things I wish someone would have told me) before I started my PhD. I have also included some things that people did tell me and I found incredibly useful. Please add any tips you have in the comments section below!

1. Set what your aims are at the start of your PhD (and let your supervisor know); If you would like to spend time in a different lab or learn a specific technique… TELL THEM!

2. Revisit and revise your plans and keep showing them to your supervisor – even if your supervisor appears uninterested

3. Get to know your supervisor, learn how they work, (where they go to hide from their students!) and how to get the most out of them

4. Learn to communicate what you are doing to someone outside of your field – that’s including your parents/loved ones and those friends who think you’ve disappeared off the face of the Earth

5. Adapt; learn that plans are not set in stone and things have to change and shift. Learn to live and love (if you can) outside of your research

6. Read the PhD comic strips. They will save your mind

7. Join a select number of societies related to your field. When the time comes to present work at conferences, most societies insist that you have been a member of their society for 12 months in order to apply for travel funds/grants - I really wish I had known this!

8. There are additional courses, learning and support that you can get from the university along the way (for example, presenting, writing or computer skills courses); Identify where your weaknesses are and improve on them

9. Talk and listen; learn to communicate with your supervisor and lab mates/others in your group

10. Gain a set of friends who are all at different stages of their PhDs; You can draw on their experiences, pass on your experiences and go for tea breaks with them when ‘the unexpected’ happens 

11. Politics (“office/lab drama”) will probably create more problems and stress than your actual research

12. Not all research is ground breaking or exciting; but it all helps and it’s all making a difference

13. At some point someone will ask you to teach someone else. Don’t panic

14. Think about (and plan for) what you want to do when it ends. Although it may not feel like it, you will finish it!

15. You will not tick off everything on the plan you created at the start of your PhD; this is not a failure

16. Your PhD is your project; you need to OWN it, manage it and be responsible for it.

Do you think we missed out on any tips? Let us know! And to those who are still in the process of deciding whether they want to do a PhD... Good luck!

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