What can I expect?

posted
17-May-16, 12:08
Avatar for Teaddict
posted about 4 years ago
So I am about to start my PhD in the social sciences in September. I have spoken to a few people about their PhD experiences, and have checked a few threads on this forum, among others, to get an idea.

I thought I would ask a bit more directly:

- What can I expect during my PhD, particularly in the first year?
- How is or how was your PhD experience?
- Anything newbies should know or do?
posted
17-May-16, 14:04
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for timefortea
posted about 4 years ago
You should definitely set up a system for saving files. I just sort of made mine up as I went along and so I now have loads of files with really vague names in strange locations that I can never put my finger on! Ditto for using reference software. I started off using Endnote but I had problems with it so swapped to Mendeley which (cross fingers) has been great.Also my supervisor always told me to write right from the start - wish I had followed that advice better!
posted
17-May-16, 23:14
edited about 7 seconds later
Avatar for Teaddict
posted about 4 years ago
Firstly, I love that this was submitted by someone with a tea related username.

Secondly, thank you for your response. What is your file system, if you don't mind sharing? I have never used referencing software before (even for my MRes). How easy is it to pick up? I suspect it might be worth downloading some to practice with now?

Finally, I have heard a few people say 'start writing from the start'. I know some people who read journal articles and then write a two page summary, including relevant data and argumentation. Is that the sort of 'write early' you suggest?
posted
18-May-16, 10:03
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
Mendeley is super easy. There's really nothing to learn. You just download the software, upload your PDFs, install the Word add-on (easy) and then when you want to cite the reference, you just click on 'insert citation' in the 'references' tab in Word and hey-presto.

It also makes a bibliography automatically for you and it's a great way to search your PDFs for key terms as well.
posted
18-May-16, 10:43
edited about 20 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 4 years ago
I heard the write from the start advice too. And so I tried to write a bit each day about what I'd read and my thoughts about where the project could go. I didn't use much of those early writings but it did help A LOT as I felt like I was doing something - whereas simply reading can feel a bit less tangible. Also, I think that what I was reading stuck a bit more, and so I probably did use the things I wrote, I just didn't directly copy and paste them into the literature review.
posted
18-May-16, 12:30
edited about 27 seconds later
by Hugh
Avatar for Hugh
posted about 4 years ago
Learn how to use Mendeley

Are you familiar with the research methods you will be using? If not, enroll on courses or sort out funding for them.

This book is free on Kindle, worthwhile reading:
posted
18-May-16, 12:53
edited about 20 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
The start is a good time to try things and figure out systems/ways of working that will be good for you, as others have suggested. I personally tried referencing software but ultimately didn't use it as I found that 'good old fashioned' is the way to go for me! You might also want to look at things like productivity/motivational tools (e.g. My Tomatoes) and look at PhD courses offered at your university - you might find some useful ones. I agree with others about doing some writing early on - your future self will thank you for it!
posted
18-May-16, 13:01
edited about 1 minute later
by Hugh
Avatar for Hugh
posted about 4 years ago
I believe the most important thing is to narrow down your research focus and have research questions as early as possible. The sooner you can start conducting your studies, the better!

Also look into ethics. Getting ethical approval can take months, and forces one to narrow down research interests.
posted
18-May-16, 14:47
by skyhoo
Avatar for skyhoo
posted about 4 years ago
I agree with the tips offered by the fellows. I want to emphasize on the "writing early" tip.
Try to write early even if you are not sure of the plan. Writing will help you plan better. It is much easier to modify than to write at a later stage.
I don't want to sound gloomy, but don't expect the journey to be a bed of roses. Personally speaking, the Phd journey has taught me precious life lessons more than the lessons of my specialty. So be courageous and you will be able to rock it.
posted
18-May-16, 14:56
Avatar for Teaddict
posted about 4 years ago
Thank you all for the advice.

In terms of writing early, what forms do you guys suggest? I know of a few people who would write two page summaries of their work, including the important arguments, data, and evidence. Is this something you would recommend?
posted
18-May-16, 15:06
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
I wrote summaries of papers as I read them - this is certainly helpful as it gives you a shorthand way of checking the main points of papers. I also drafted a literature review in my first year - I find that people have different opinions on how helpful this is, as some people say it changes completely as you go on, but in my case the original literature review is nearly all useful to me now - some of it is getting moved into different chapters of my thesis, but I'm not at all sorry that I drafted it at the time.
posted
18-May-16, 16:06
Avatar for Teaddict
posted about 4 years ago
Thank you for the advice chickpea. I do like the idea of creating summaries, I think they might be very useful. The literature review, drafted in the first year, might also be useful in piecing together the literature, even if you don't actually use that particular literature review.
posted
18-May-16, 16:49
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
One thing I found useful in my summaries was to write down any connections, contradictions etc that I found with other papers I'd read - it helps you to start synthesising them into a review. Another thing I did was to create documents for very early things that might eventually go into chapters, e.g. I've had a 'possible limitations to this study' document since way before I did any studies, which might sound strange, but when I was reading papers I was coming across such relevant discussions of limitations that I thought I should write them down before I forgot them!

Other than that, I wholeheartedly agree with Hugh's suggestion to get your studies underway as early as you can, as data collection issues can be the slowest part of the whole process.
posted
18-May-16, 23:01
Avatar for Teaddict
posted about 4 years ago
That's a good idea chickpea, thank you.
posted
19-May-16, 16:18
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 4 years ago
Also, since you've asked what to expect... for me the first few months were extremely challenging in terms of it just being so different to what I'd been used to (MRes psychology) and what I'd expected. I had expected to get into things quickly and soon be working at a really fast pace, multitasking etc, doing my research, writing, everything (the MRes was pretty full on). By contrast, the first year can be a bit of a lull (it has been for me so far). I've had to mentally adapt to the slower pace and the idea of not DOING anything that felt substantial. So watch out for that - it can be a bit demotivating but doesn't last too long!

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