As I am entering what should (and will!) be my last year of PhD, I seem to be unconsciously reflecting on what I have learned during the past 3 years. So, here is my top 5 thoughts and pieces of advice if you are thinking of doing a PhD or recently started.
You will kill your darlings
As you embark on the PhD journey, you are full of ideas, and tend to take on board interesting suggestions that other academics make or that just spring to mind. This might lead you to spend time researching exciting stuff, but that sadly derive too much from your intended PhD goal. Killing your darlings is hard, but you can always set a project aside and come back to it post-PhD.
This might not end up in the final version: Just write!
In the early stages, I’ve been told many time by my supervisors that what I had written was good, but would most likely not end up as such in my final piece. At the time, my reaction to such comments would be “What?! But, this is so good, and took me so long to produce…why would I not use it in the end?” And then I realised that the PhD is an iterative process, where a lot of the early writing you produce should be considered as learning material.
Supervisor 1: “Do A”. Supervisor 2: “Do B”
When you have a supervisory team of two or more academics, following their advice can get very tricky, especially when they start disagreeing. Two things I learned about this are 1) You might think they disagree, but they are in fact saying the same thing differently. Listen and decode carefully, and ask questions if you are unsure 2) In the end, the PhD is your work and you need to make your own decisions. Just make sure you have a solid rationale for your choices.
Manage your activities
I enjoy tutoring and doing some research assistantship on top of my own research project. Fair enough, this choice is partly guided by financial constraints, but also part of a career plan. I don’t want to end up with a PhD and no other relevant academic experience on my CV. This is a purely personal choice of course, but it also helps me keep my sanity: if I worked full time on my PhD and only on that, I think I’d go mad! In any case, make sure that your work pace, routine and activities suit you.
and a last, less serious, piece of advice….DON’T have a baby!
This is one thing that my academic mentor told me when I was thinking of doing a PhD, right after my Master. It kind of made me raise an eyebrow at the time, but it stuck with me. Of course, this is to be taken with a pinch of salt: I know people that have had a baby, and even babies during their PhD and that managed perfectly fine. Just be aware of what it entails. It might mean that you will have to take a study break, or slow down your pace as your focus shifts.
As for me, I am indeed having a baby this year: THE PhD!
I hope this post was useful; feel free to share your top PhD tips as well
If you are a finishing rather than an early PhD researcher, have a look at this file published by the University of Newcastle in Australia 😉