Advice you wish you knew before starting your PhD

So I am starting a PhD what are the top tips and advice that you wish that you knew before you started?
I am the first in my family to do a PhD and amongst my friends 2 people are starting their PhD at the same time as me so I am very much in the dark about all of this!
I personally have a scholarship for 3 years so will need to complete it within this time frame but I am very much in the situation where I don’t know what I don’t know.
Any advice would be appreciated and hopefully other people will find this useful!

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Hello. I am in the same boat. Starting in couple weeks. First in my family and friends to go for PhD. I got orientation so I learned some info but I don’t know what I don’t know.

Good Luck! Hopefully as we find things out we can add to this :slightly_smiling_face:

1: Your first practice Viva will go terribly. You are not used to your work being grilled on this level so this will be stressful! They will grill you on your most basic knowledge and you probably won’t be prepared. But you will be for your next practice!

Hello! First of all congrats on starting a PhD!! I was in a similar situation being the first of my family and extended relatives to try pursuing a PhD. Some things I wish people would have told me when I started:

  • Work smart not hard: I was always worried about choosing the right topic, writing the right thing and completing all tasks as fast as I could. This only got me into a spiral of anxiety and self deception that was hard to overcome. I would’ve loved someone told me that the work one does is directly related with the expectations of your Adviser. So first tip: learn clearly what does your adviser and administrative coordinator(s) are expecting from you and don’t try to “give the extra” at least until you feel confident that by doing so it would benefit you.

  • CLEARLY Define what is the problem you’re trying to solve/improve/shed-light-on: At the beginning of the PhD I felt I was able to fix the world by pointing what has been missing in previous research, however this would not help me to solve my stated problem so I kept side tracking on different topics and methodologies that sounded amazing but did nothing to push forward my research. My advise is: try to be as concise and straight-forward with the problem definition and proposed solution. When and If there is time you can then explore other aspects of the problem that may be interesting/relevant.

  • Communication with your supervisor is key to move forward. Unfortunately in my case, I had to learn this late on my journey due to the difficult character of my adviser. He had really squared approaches and old-way of doing things: he didn’t want for me to share my thoughts with my peers, he didn’t want me to ask for help to the “Writing Centre” of my University, he didn’t want us to speak our mother tongue one day a week - we would only speak english, he didn’t promote my work on conferences or boosted me to try and apply for a research stay. All of this are red flags. I had to learn -lately- that this is not OK and that the role of an adviser is to support you and motivating you to do your best with what you already know whilst providing tools to facilitate your work in case there’s something new to learn.

  • Be careful with the content you share to your peers. Unfortunately, Ethics is something not everyone practices and while, ideally, Academia should be a place to share ideas and come up with creative solutions, more often than not that is not the case. If you have the pleasure of having a good adviser, discuss with him/her your innovative ideas and try to land them as a part of your research BEFORE you even share the thought with your peers. Especially if they belong to the same research group.

  • Research journal: Designate a journal where you can log your daily activities, thoughts and important stuff. Particularly when decisions affecting the direction of your research are made.

  • Don’t leave writing to the end: If on your 1st semester your adviser gives you material to read, try to schedule a time on your day specially for reading and another slot of time only for writing what you’ve understood or not. Unknowingly this practice will help you write more efficiently when you need to publish your research.

  • Finally, take time to learn the rules of your PhD program. It is important that you know your rights and obligations and that you know where to go in case any problem arises.
    Also, keep digging on the YT channel of Andy Stapleton I am sure you’ll find a goldmine of resources and tips- i did and now my life is a bit easier.

cheers and good luck!


Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this question!
This is all great advice and fantastic that its written in such a concise way

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