Top tips for the first year?


Hi! I am doing research PhD (studentship) and am starting next week. I am currently finishing work which is a massive step as its been quite a secure job for 8 years. I am walking into the unknown. I did a part time MA but have no degree so didn't do the Uni thing. Everything is really new and I've noticed a lot slower than 9-5 work. What can I expect and what tips do you have for me in my first year?


Well you're right so far - it's nothing like working a normal 9-5. Expect that slow pace to continue, but remember you need to pick it up when you have to, such as when things aren't working properly, during final year and during writing the thesis (I'm talking about science PhDs here). I remember my supervisors asking me if I thought I was working hard sometime during my first year. I replied no and they laughed - but I know what hard work is and honestly, I don't think I've ever worked 'hard' at my PhD like I did during my 9-5 (or 8-7, if you get my point).

You can also expect to have to manage your supervisor - many academics have no idea about managing people at all, so you have to ask for the supervision you need.

Google imposter syndrome. I think every PhD student suffers from that at some time or another, or continuously.. forever, yeah.

Every PhD experience is different. Mine was a great one, but some people go through hell during their PhD, for various reasons.


You haven't started yet. A PhD may start off slow but it gets very hectic. The difference between a 9-5 job and a PhD is that the effort has to be sustained over long periods and certainly outside of 'work hours'.


I've just finished my first week and as others have said above it is a very slow start. I came straight from finishing a Masters so I assumed I'd be suitably prepared to make the transition but it's weird when you actually have to make your own structure for each day. You should hopefully get your own desk with you having secured a Studentship (certainly the case at my uni anyway, but this may be different between universities) and the best thing to do is to get started as soon as you can. Nobody tells you to get started (at least, not in my experience) so it's a case of taking the initiative after you've had your induction and cracking on with the reading etc. I can't say for the rest of the year though but hopefully we'll make it through it alive! Best of luck with yours.


My three top tips would be:

- Purchase a book on writing a doctoral thesis. I learnt about things I should be doing way too late on in the process
- If you are deciding your own research subject, make sure you are as clear as possible about what exactly it is that you are researching. Again, I found this out way too far into the process! This will help to ensure that you don't drown in the sea of literature that already exists.
- Do the same for your methodology. Be clear about the process you are adopting, and don't be left trying to retrospectively find a suitable option (as I did).

Good luck :)


I would say enjoy your first year - you should have time at this stage to look at things like interesting or useful courses offered at your uni for postgrad students - but also make sure you get plenty of reading and writing done, as you will really be glad of it in the later stages.


Do you know which research methods you will be using? Master the methods; then you will be king :)

Actually, before that, narrow down your research topic, so you have research questions and know exactly what you are doing. That is key.


I don't know your area but this is based on my experiences with qualitative work.

It's no where near as hard as combining work with study. It can have weeks of easy ride and then weeks f really intense hard slog. Get out and about, don't eat all the cake! Many of us put on weight over the PhD!

Read - lots! Find where you can make an original contribution - this doesn't have to be world changing. use something like Mendeley to organise literature. The electronic notes you write soon add up and can be pasted into a lit review, methods section etc.

Lit review - Don't get pedantic. Do enough to know where your contribution lies, you'll amend anyway as study unfolds - it's a working document that you'll finish after you write your conclusion.

Pilot - know your methods and what data you can expect/or not expect! Some pilots develop into the full study so you already have some data.

Recruitment - If you need to recruit spend time on recruitment strategies. Your pilot study can help make contacts. It's often the most difficult part come data collection and many fail to plan appropriately for this.

Ethics - Get your ethics forms done correctly first time and submit in good time as it can hold up progress. Try to make them both specific and ambiguous (weird right!) I specified too closely a certain group I wanted to study and when I couldn't recruit had to amend the ethics all because I was now looking at a range of students rather than a particular set of students. I could have saved so much time just writing 'University student' as my recruitment group! Total time spent waiting on both ethic submissions - 12 weeks!

Study site - I wish I'd recruited away from my Uni. I've found studying, working (studentship duties) and researching in one place very insular. Plus I don't actually live near my uni so it was a pain to do.


Good advice already!

I just want to add that "things are slower" is an illusion that deceives many students. You might not have the day-to-day to deliver specific outcomes, but you have milestones you should be hitting every six months or so.

I can't speak for other PhD experiences, but my PhD was harder than my previous job (I ran my own practice as an engineer) both in terms of long-hours and intellectual effort.


Thank you all for your comments. I have my first supervision next week and I am glad of it. I feel like I've been not doing much I must admit!


First know about your research topic and try to understand the literature. Don't disappoint anywhere, because to understand our research takes at least 2 years. All the best.