What did you do during first few months of PhD?


Hi all,

I've not been on here as much recently because I just can't get back into work mode after finishing my MA. I started my PhD in October but still don't really know what an earth I should be doing! What did you do during the first three months of your PhD?

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I panicked, and didn't do much and then got really concerned about the whole thing.

I would suggest you read, but with the aim of doing little 'essays' on each topic. I have a range of 4-7k word sections on each bit of the literature, that say what the overall findings are, problems with the studies, any gaps etc. I probably won't use most of it in my lit review, but it will be SO helpful!


I'm part time (and self funded with my own research project) so timescales might be a bit different. In first 6 months (supposedly equivalent to 3 months full time) I wrote my research proposal (with lots of tears), presented at an international conference (held every 2 years so although it was very early I felt it was important - the abstract was done a couple of weeks after I registered for my PhD) which was really helpful in shaping my research, wrote a chapter summary and timetable (which were a bit of a joke but were required), started reading, more reading, more reading. I haven't really done much real writing and that is what I really need to get on with. I also made contact with useful people (I'm in social sciences and part of the research will involve interviews) and planned my research trip (which was combined with family holiday in July/August).
I've got to do some proper writing though...


I've just started too, and have spent the time to date as follows: becoming familiar with all of the departmental processes/systems, settling into research office, getting to know other PhD-ers, earnest reading, fulfilling requirements to attend Research Methods unit + coursework, getting to know Supervisor, drafting content for the regulatory submission in March 2011, re-evaluating the methodology from my research proposal, responding to requests to attend conferences/give seminars. Usual stuff I expect.


Hi Button,

Thanks for asking this question which has been bothering me as well! I just started my PhD and almost immediately I started worrying about not doing enough. Similar to Artista, I try to get to know the people and my supervisor first, attend a few training sessions and try to figure out how research processes work. I am reading about the theory that I will use and writing a summary on each chapter that I read and although it requires commitment, I find this extremely useful. Try to write at least a paragraph on each article or chapter you read, this will accelerate the lit. review process and for me the comprehension process too! I am also preparing for presenting at a conference next semester and will probably attend a few other conferences. My project is in an interdisciplinary area so I try to attend two different departments' research seminars and try to get to know some key people in both departments.
Well, most important of all I try to remind myself not to worry too much at this stage as I'll need the nerve for forthcoming stages.

Best of luck!


I did the rounds to know the admin staff (they are your gatekeepers, and my life is soooooo much easier compared to other PhDs who did not take the time to introduce themselves) and read up on the requirements. When I wasn't busy trying to find ways to procrastinate, I tried to collect potentially relevant papers and trying different search terms. Reading these papers was a trick, as I was too busy trying to not do work and 'become a student again'. That and meetings with the supervisor every 2-3 weeks kept me hopping.


Hi guys, I'm new here.. just started my PhD this year too. I've spent the first while basically doing what has been documented here. Getting to know the University; ensuring I'm up-to-date with all administrative requirements; meeting my supervisor every 2-3 weeks; attending research seminar, research methods classes. I went and viewed some relevant archives as well, which was really informative. Also, as I've been out of education for three years, it did take me a good while to get back into the 'study zone' and I don't know if I actually am there 100% yet but I am getting better with every week I think!

We have a 100 day viva at our institution so come January I have to give a presentation, literature review (and I would aim to have a chapter done or at least seriously in the works) which is a good way of motivating me. There are also a few conferences and calls for academic journal papers bubbling in the background so - lots to do1


I am two months in. By three months I am expected to have got to grips with departmental requirements, written a 2000 word internal document about my research plan and training needs, learned the building blocks of my data analysis work and written the first draft of my 10K literature review. I was doing very well, but about a week ago I started to panic and have written all of 500 words out of 10,000 (I'm supposed to be giving it to my supervisor tomorrow).


I started in October like you but I already have my schedule mapped out for me. I just basically conducted several literature searches, read a million papers (feels like) wrote reviews on those searches presented them to the sups, attended research seminars and additional skills training, received feedback for reviews chose the one they liked the most, started writing the most horrendous ethics application ever and that's where I'm at now. That was the first month. Coming up are more seminars, more training, 3 month review process, giving various presentations to various organisations and charities and hopefully in among that I'll submit the ethics and enjoy my Xmas!

It was much more work than I'd ever imagined in the first few weeks. Mostly though it has been reading and writing but that's been pretty much the exact same experience as everyone else in my section.


Hi I started in October as well straight after finishing my MSc, well I had 4 weeks off in between and I did nothing and returned to uni feeling refreshed but it was hard getting back into 'work' mode. So far I've done lots of reading and not a lot else. I feel like I'm a bit behind because although this is my 5th week I've only done about 3 weeks work. This is due to the second week being taken up by boring induction stuff 9-5 every day for a week which was compulsory. Then I had to go in for foot surgery 2 weeks ago (it was elective but bad timing) and took a week off to recover. I haven't left the house in 2 weeks because I can't put any weight on my foot and haven't had stitches out yet, however the lack of mobility has made me focus. I think it's because while I'm working at home I can't keep getting up to respond to distractions e.g. doing random bits of housework so I am effectively chained to my desk. Fortunately I have a very supportive partner waiting on me. And my supervisor is very understanding (he was my MSc sup too), he just gave me a list of things to do before my op but also made sure I focussed on recovering first.

The only scary thing is my sup wants me to submit a 7-10k word lit review before xmas and I haven't written anything and am not sure if I can read enough in time. I've been told it's better to write a lot about a lot of papers rather than a lot about a few papers if that makes sense, so I think I've got a lot to do!


Absolutely nothing; if I'm honest.


wow, this thread is helpful... but scary! i am meant (fingers crossed!) to start in Jan.


I'm 8 months in. In this time I've completed a 4000 word proposal, a 12000 word review of the literature (not an actual literature review) narrowed down my focus and wrote another 10,000 words specifically related to my topic. Went to workshops, seminars and a conference. I was very anxious at the start of my phd that I wasn't doing enough and I still feel that way just now. I think it goes part and parcel. I hope to at least have my methods chapter completed and first drafts of my two literature chapters by the end of my first year.


Hey Athena,

That's actually a lot of work! I'm 4 months in (started in January) but I don't think I'm anywhere close where you probably were at 4 months.

Did you submit all that work to your supervisor?

I've done a lot of work in the "background" but I've not actually generated anything really formal. Nothing that really stands alone by itself. I'm worried because I feel like I've not really done very much, even though I spend every waking hour thinking about my PhD. Not that that translates into actual, visible work.

I suppose the anxiety comes from not really knowing how to pace myself and what monthly milestones I should be meeting. I know the big thing for the first year is the upgrade, but what happens before then? Is it really up to you, and how you get to the end doesn't really matter?


Another helpful thing to do in the first few months is to find out what your university offers in terms of training (from research methods/stats to writing/presenting as well as business and entrepreneurship). Some have online courses you can take and it may help build your confidence as a researcher - because that's what you are!

Good luck to you all - you are embarking on a fascinating journey (one which I finished a few years ago and would do all over again if I could)!