Getting a PhD: Starting strong

First week over...

Since I'm still very new at this, I am basing this first post on advice from supervisors, successful PhD holders, a book, as well as my fly-on-the-wall observations of PhD students (based on a six-month internship I did at the University):

You have to be mentally prepared.

1. Brilliance is not everything. You need to have a determined attitude as you will experience highs and lows in the process- your findings will occasionally disappoint you, and you'll feel stagnant at other points. In fact, the one question I've learned not to ask PhD students is "how is your work going?" But determination and personal interest in the project seems to be enough to keep them going.

2. A PhD involves a lot of independent thinking and working. Detailed work plans and progress reports are your friends.

3. Develop clearly stated research questions to help you produce an original contribution to research- the quickest way to reach your research's conclusion is by asking non-vague research questions.

4. For a three-year programme, the first and third years are likely to be the most challenging since you will have to prove yourself in the former (sometimes having to write a Transfer Report), and write up your thesis in the latter.

5. Build your supervisors' trust and confidence by honouring commitments, clarifying expectations and sharing information. When work/life is going weirdly, try not to dodge him/her, but be honest about how things are going. And show initiative - your supervisor is only a guide.

6. How to finish your research within the allotted time? I have noticed that successful PhD holders (those who are able to produce good work in the allotted time) are those that keep coming to the workstation (office/lab) very regularly.

7. If you are anything like me, the concept of doing research for 3-4 whole years is intimidating because you imagine that 'real' life will be on hold for the next 3-4 years since mixing school and your other interests has often proven to be tricky. But you must learn to juggle this by allocating time for everything lest you become totally dissociated from society. It might also be good to approach your research work hours as a regular 9-5 job... whenever possible.

8. Learn to see your PhD as a job especially if you are being sponsored by a government or research council, so guard your attitude, dress up, put a spring in your step and keep it moving.

9. Attend Skills trainings/seminars on effective research writing, stress and time management, presentations and the likes. Good for your  development. Also good for meeting PhD students from different fields (I find this an easy way to be updated about other fields whilst sharing a mini rant session).

10. Keep a well-dated research book, quite like a journal where you jot your ideas, plans and quotes (with references, even if there's only a 50% chance of using them).

11. Don't imagine that a research degree is an automatic guarantee for a job. You will still need to network (during conferences, seminars, fairs). You should expect to become an expert in your chosen field though, which counts for a lot!

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