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How to Start your PhD

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Hey Dr to be! So, you've been accepted, you are raring to go now and you're waiting for your first supervisor meeting. Check you out with your shiny new pencil case and untarnished MacBook. Here are my simple steps on how to not screw-up the early days of your PhD.

Relationships count

The best thing you can do during your phd is to create a healthy working relationship with your immediate supervisory team and the support staff. So go on, introduce yourself, say hello and get to know the person behind the email address. Shout out to the postgrad and faculty support staff - they keep the phd machine running with often very little thanks. They are there for you when big challenges crop up and also when you have to have a little cry at the printer.

Learn how to work with each other

By that I mean understand how your supervisor likes to work. It might me they can be tricky to get hold of. Could you help them by booking your meetings in bulk each quarter. How do they like to receive work in progress? Printed, shared file or in a particular format such as a Trello notification? I know these things sound trivial but it can make all the difference and save a few minutes in the working day - which can be better spent on giving you feedback. So ask your supervisory team. Similarly, if there is anything you need to share or let them know about - annual leave, childcare then go for it. That way everyone is upfront about what they need and avoids those nuanced annoyances.

We're all human

Have some thought for the other side of the desk. While you may be facing the PhD mountain and yet to take your first step I can say it's not easy sitting on the other side of the fence. When you have a student ready to go and their academic destiny is to an extent in your hands it's a lot. We all have good days, bad days, and everything in between. Academia is quite a challenging environment at the moment with homeschooling, redundancies looming, increased workload etc. So keep this in mind when your supervisors need to grab that extra coffee before your meeting, we're human after all.

Do more than just the PhD

Think of it this way - in a few years time, or six (like me), everyone to the left and right of you will have their PhD hopefully. So what makes you different? Hmmm. Well you need to do more than just the PhD. Expand your network, join the professional communities you want to be part of post-PhD now. Make sure people know who you are so when you do need to connect with them they already know you. Get working on your personal brand now.

Elephants don't forget

There is no point bull dozing your way through a PhD without consideration as to how you go about it and your impact on others. From day one you are making your reputation. Perhaps you want to get hired after your PhD at the same institution - reputation, conduct and collegiality all count. Being a team player, considerate, hard working and fun bodes well for having a successful academic career And getting a yes to your dream role.

Facing problems

There will always be bumps big and small along the journey. I hope you never face anything too tricky, Life is going to give you lemons so know all the channels you can reach out to if you are struggling or speak to someone you trust. You might not need them now but it's good to know where you need to go if you are facing challenges and need support.

Treat it like a job...ish

While we can all enjoy getting lost in the throes of our research and sometimes that is exactly what you should be doing, you want to maintain a healthy balance through your PhD. Try to set some boundaries like rough working hours, or maintaining time for other activities and fun. Plan out your busy seasons and then take time to rest and recharge as you hit each PhD milestone. It will serve you well than spending long days in front of a screen getting nowhere fast.

Project manage all the way

Get yourself some project management tools to help you manage your workload. simultaneously juggling conference papers, PhD chapters, teaching assistant commitments and publications is a lot. you also need a clear head for writing so get your to do list out of your brain and organised. I’m a big advocate for Trello and

Look after your tech gear

Stupid one I know, but my Mac broke the night before my PhD submission. I can still feel the fear now. I remember watching in slow motion as my tea cup hit my Mac keyboard - too tired, not paying attention and just over stretched. Oooh it stings! Take care of your stuff, back your work up and never ever leave your work on public transport - yep did that one too!

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