Starting out of the PhD


Hi everyone

I'm new to the forum - so hello! First I'd better give you a bit about me - I'm a psychology graduate from the UK and have come overseas to New Zealand in order to complete a PhD at Massey University, based in Auckland. I've seen a lot of negative posts on here, and I'm keen for some advice in starting my PhD, like what to expect, what are the challenges, things people have enjoyed or hated.... just a general feel for the PhD process I guess!

My PhD topic is in health psychology, so if anyone has completed/completing a PhD in psychology or social science I'd be really keen to hear form you! I suppose my initial worries are how to get started and what generally the first year of a PhD should entail, and what the workload expectations are.

I realise this is a bit of a vague post.

Looking forward to hearing from fellow PhD-ers! :-)


One simple piece of advice. Sit down with the research administrator and with your supervisor. Go through the requirements and rules of engagement, step-by-step. You need to be clear as to exactly what both parties are expected to do, in microscopic detail. It will save you a lot of annoyance, confusion and pain, and allow you to plan better and work towards clearer goals. Never underestimate the number of poor academics and petty bureaucrats out there.

For example, if you have not yet submitted a proposal you need to find out what it comprises, who sees it, how long it takes, who approves it, how they will give you feedback, when and how will a supervisor be assigned etc. Do this right through to the award of the degree and receipt of the certificate.

Also be very clear on supervision and on who decides on whether the quality of your work is acceptable. Some supervisors are willing to almost tutor you through, whereas others couldn't be bothered to do more than half an hour every 6 months. How does one ask for a supervision meeting? How frequently can one meet, how long does each meeting take? What help / feedback does the supervisor provide? What do they expect you to do with their advice? Who is in charge of the direction of your research? Will your supervisor expect you to work on their pet project and give them credit for your work? What are the procedures if you are not happy?

Clarifying their research approach and expectations can be valuable too. Do they like or accept 'alternative' methods, or do they make life miserable for anyone trying to use anything but XYZ methodology (particularly the tendency to favour the faux quantitative research method of 'survey-and-statistics').

Finally, find out who the examiners are likely to be. The university will only start looking for examiners when you are about to submit, but they should have some idea of who they may be approaching. Ultimately it is the examiners' decision whether you are awarded your degree or not, and you really should be aligned with their expectations to not have to go through unnecessary pain. In my case I waited 9 months for my viva after submitting, and it was obvious the one examiner had not bothered to read the thesis.


Hi - thanks for the great advice, I'll certainly sit down with my supervisors and go through all of the points raised above. The good thing is my supervisors seem very keen on supervision and I guess I'm lucky in the sense that both are really 'hands on' kind of guys as opposed to very distant academic figures!

Firstly I'll be producing a research proposal (the one submitted for funding was very loose and brief, and so I'll need a much tighter, comprehensive proposal for my thesis). As for what else the first year comprises, I'd guess a literature review would be one of the first points of call. Again I'll have to discuss all this with my supervisors.

I was really excited to get the scholarship, however am a bit nervous now as there seem to be lots of unhappy people on the forum!

H :-)