Tips List


Hi All,

Many of us here must be starting first years. I've been wondering, what if all of us here, whi are into their second years and above or are 'Dr' already :) posts just ONE central advice they feel would help first years...and let the thread grow...of course you are welcome to re-post, and add, but just keep adding your tips (on any aspect of the phd process).

Some topics may include :

1. Supervisors
2. planning
3. research topic selection
4. Lit reviews
5. networking
6. bibliographies
7. conferences
8. job search
9. supervisor-supervisee equations
10. routines
11. targets

this is only indicative!!!


Avatar for sneaks

Don't get too tied down to non-phd work e.g. teaching, lab work. The more you take on, the more they expect you to do! Its a never ending cycle and its better to finish your phd on time with a bit of this kind of experience, than finish it 2 years late with a load of lab work on your cv!

(am I conveying my bitterness enough?)

Avatar for sneaks

oh and No.6 Bibliographies. Use EndNote from day 1 - means you always have everything you read in one place. And make sure you attach PDF files to each reference where possible so you can access everything really easily.


My best tip would be to write stuff up as you go. Even if it is just methods etc. Getting stuff written down is the best feeling and makes the writing up process a little less daunting. Obviously if you can write chapters/manuscripts this makes piecing a thesis together a lot easier too.

Avatar for sneaks

Try and adopt a quasi supervisor. That is - not your supervisor but someone who is doing a PhD or just finished in your department that you can talk to on a more informal basis about worries, concerns, work info etc.


SNEAKS, chin up!! And thanks all, keep it up!! Charge ahead!


Don't let the bxstards grind you down! If you think you can see light at the end of the tunnel, don't believe it for a second. It's just some shxt holding a torch and a stack of work for you to do.

Avatar for sneaks

Sorry - in the middle of a piece of work for major deadline and also having loads of other non-PhD stuff to deal with which is great for the cash flow but awful for getting stuff done

must also not continue to check forum! :p


Well when you first start you will probably feel out of your depth and in most cases feel a bit stupid.. Don't panic this is totally normal!

If you are unsure of how to do something then just say.. You are there to learn so you don't have to pretend to be an expert! Better to potentially look a bit daft in the first few weeks than to muck something up down the line!

Start reading papers straight away and use a reference manager, it makes things so much easier.

Setting yourself targets is a good idea along the lines of 'By the end of the week I will have done X,Y and Z' but then don't feel too disheartened if you only get one of those done, things often end up taking longer than expected

Going to conferences are the best way to network, so I would say try to go to a few over the 3 years.

Make friends with other PhD students, it's so easy to become a bit of a loner when doing a PhD so try to have a social life and talk to fellow PhDers.. its also a great opportunity to air any worries or concerns that you might have, generally if you have a worry about the PhD process someone else will have it or have been through it!

The last piece of advice I'll put is don't let it take over your life, especially not in your first year. Treat it like a job and aim to work set hours say 8:30-5:30, that way it easier to maintain a good work/play balance.

Avatar for sneaks

You may work at home a lot, so try and put one day at least aside each week to not turn on your computer, check emails etc. Don't let your PhD invade your house - have a separate work area. Otherwise you will end up on Sunday morning watching hollyoaks and trying to proof read your last piece of work, or realising mid 1st year that at some point someone must have surgically grafted a laptop to you because you always have it on you! - make sure you have a break!


Find out if there is funding for you to go to at least one international conference and if there is, keep an eye out (or ask your supervisor) on which conference would be best. It would be better if you can present (poster/oral) at a major conference so if the international one is major, make sure you attend when you can present.

Network at any conferences you attend, you never know when you might need someone's help (outside of your uni). Don't be afraid to email/speak to known academics in your field. Don't get on your supervisor's bad side because this is where most of the important intros can come from.

I would suggest looking for a job (if you have the time) in your final year. However make sure that if you do commit yourself to a job before you finish, that it is a realistic starting date. For example, it's ok to be making minor changes to your thesis but more than that will get you down.


Forgot to add, try and get some teaching duties in your department. Looks great on your CV, a bit of extra cash and it's an excellent way of working on those communication skills.

Likewise, attend journal club, seminars where possible and make sure you get plenty of presentation practise.


Lit review - ideal is to do this before you start and keep adding to it everytime you find a new reference or come across a different topic.

You will have to modify this for your thesis but it does help if most of it is already there.


You didn't say what field you are in, if it's pure science, make sure you keep an accurate lab book because trying to remember things you did 3 years is a killer!


1) If you find a paper you think is interesting but not entirely relevant, make sure you STILL save the URL / details of that paper, as your research changes you might find that paper is more relevant than you first thought but then spend 2 days searching the net for it as you didn't save the relevant details.

2) Start writing from day one - A number of pages of my thesis came from my first year transfer report.. and my transfer report came from a 3 month report I did after I started my PhD. If you think something is interesting, investigate it and see if you can write something that is relevant to your research.

3) Manage expecations with your supervisor - my supervisor expected me to be hungover and not in the office before 10:00am - I didn't let him down :$ , nor did I let him down when I said I would do something, I did it - manage your supervisor as well as managing yourself.

4) Don't compare yourself to other PhD students, every research topic is different - some of my mates had a 200 page thesis with 50 references, I had a 380 page one with 400 references... we both got there in the end so comparing chalk and cheese is pointless.

5) Never, ever lose sight of the fact you need to 'prove' everything you had written... you make a statement - can you back that up? where? how? why is that source valid? - get into that habit of questionning your own research early, makes it easier when your viva comes round.

6) Buy the book 'How to get a PhD' - I found it very useful to read when I first started