12 things you need to know when starting a PhD

1: Beat your first deadline

Whatever your supervisor gives you to do first, beat the deadline by at least 24 hours.

2: Get to know people who can make things happen

You might not need them yet, but saying hello to secretaries, technicians, porters etc is a very good idea before you need a last minute favour later. Then…

3: Thank people who do things for you

Especially your PhD supervisor. It’s easy to complain if they aren’t there for you, but recognise that they are almost certainly busier than you are, and show that you value their time.

4: Get to know other people’s research

This will give you a broader knowledge base, and stop you getting too narrowly focused on your own research. You’ll learn far more (and faster) by talking to people than you will by reading.

And your colleagues are more likely to be interested in your work if you show an interest in theirs.

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5: Get really, really good at one thing

Nobody knows everything. You’re not expected to. But try to get seriously good at at least one thing.

Even better if it’s something useful to other people.

6: What you write now, you won’t like in 3 years time

3 years from now, you’ll know far more than you do now. That’s the whole point of the PhD.

The value of doing a lit review now though his to learn the basics. Focus on basic concepts, and don’t let writing get in the way of starting research.

7: Downloading papers doesn’t count as reviewing the literature

I mentioned this in 17 random tips for PhD success, but it’s worth saying again. Check out this post on an easier way to review literature.

8: Publish

Everything you do should be working towards getting published. If your work isn’t going to be publishable, it’s not going to be worth a PhD.

9: Make contacts outside your department

Contacts are the lifeblood of your career. Get to know people at conferences, get their business card, add them on LinkedIn, and that CV you send 3 years from now won’t be coming from a stranger.

10: Write everything down

Write notes as if they are for someone else working coming in to take over your work after your shift ends. Your future self will forget!

11: Time goes faster than you think

Sometimes the days will drag, but the years will fly by. Set yourself a target for what you’re going to achieve in the first 6 months.

12: Make mistakes

If you make no mistakes, you’re not taking risks and you’re not pushing yourself.

Just make sure you learn from them, take responsibility for them, and try not to make the same mistake twice.

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11 thoughts on “12 things you need to know when starting a PhD

    • Even if I could think of interesting and valid topics in subjects I’ve never studied, how would I know what was a suitable topic for you, personally?

  1. Thanks a lot, i am submitting my synopsis for Ph.D program. Those things you recommend will help me definitely.
    thanks once again

  2. Thank you for these tips. I am just starting out on my PhD and am finding it a great leap forward from my Masters Degree. Your tips are very useful .I think though that the hardest thing is going to be how to manage a sense of panic and to develop an aura of peace and tranquillity in which to be creative.

  3. Great tips, thanks. I would mention picking great tools: Evernote, Mendeley, Zotero or bohr.launchrock.com can help you a lot!

  4. hi sir.,.
    just now i started thinking to do Phd, im full eager to do, but now im persuing MBA 1st year.,. can i able to do Phd… is it possible? i dont know how to proceed further to complete Phd.. pls do the needful sir.,.

  5. These are great! Feeling a little better about the vast unknown three years that sprawl in front of me after reading this post – I have my first PhD tutorial in a few days. Will definitely keep them in mind! Thanks!

  6. Yes, I’ve got some stuff in there inspired by the 4HWW… The Pareto principle certainly applies to research!

  7. Hi.My name Mohd Hafizie Suhaimi. I just started my Phd last three week. I’m doing research on IT focusing in social media. The tips is useful for me as my journey toward Phd. Thanks..

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