On the 18th of September, 2017 I somehow completed my first year of my PhD. That’s right. The kid who really had no interest in science throughout his schooling has somehow managed to complete a whole year of PhD life without incident. What is perhaps more surprising, given the stereotypical view of a PhD’s life, is that I have really enjoyed it.
With this in mind I thought that I might write down a few things that I have found really helpful during my first year. Disclaimer – this is not a list of ways to do a ‘good’ PhD. I hope that I have indeed done good work up until now, but of course this is subjective. The reason I have written this list is because I often think that people forget that in many ways a PhD should really be the highlight of your career. The more you progress the less time you have for individual projects and thus I think it is important to make sure that your PhD is not only ‘good’ but also ‘enjoyable’, and that is what this list is about.
1) Join a society. I only know of one other PhD student who regularly attends a sports club or society. Why is this? I think lots of post grads think that sports and societies are ‘just for the undergraduates’. This defiantly isn’t true. The ‘I have too much work’ excuse doesn’t really work here either. It is impossible to work 24/7 and everyone needs time to relax. Being a member of a sports team, I think has actually made me more efficient as a researcher. If I want to play in that game of Wednesday I’d better make sure that X, Y and Z are done before hand.
2) CC’ing is the key. One unfortunately common reasons for an unhappy PhD student is supervisory issues. I am fortunate that my supervisors have been great so far and in fairness to Royal Holloway, University of London, where I study, this seems to be the norm. One thing that I have found useful when dealing with multiple supervisors (especially across institutions) cc’ing people into emails. It keeps everyone in the loop and avoids any complications developing.
3) Appreciate landmarks. What should you do when you finish your 4 month review??? – go to the pub. What about your 9 month review??? – go to the pub. What to do when you finally get an R package working after days of wrestling with it….. you get the point. A PhD is long and it can sometimes feel that the end is miles away but the reality is a PhD is loads of little steps. Finishing your first experiment, getting a paper accepted, first conference etc. Don’t let these moments pass by without celebrating them and further don’t let your friends/colleague’s pass these moments without a little celebration, which bring me on to point number 4.
4) Make sure your colleague’s become your friends. This might seem like an obvious one but I have been surprised that is doesn’t always happen. PhD’s can be quite competitive and at the end of the day you will probably at some point be applying to the same jobs as your friends. However, when things go wrong or well, no one will understand better how you are than other PhD candidates. My friends at Holloway this year have been my rocks and I am very grateful for them.
5) Book a holiday. The idea that PhD’s shouldn’t take time off this ridiculous. Book a holiday, go traveling, see your family just do something that actually allows you to turn off. Don’t write or read anything for a week or two and return to work feeling refreshed, motivated and ready to go once more.