I always try and apply what I experience in my PhD to my blog writing, so in this blog I’ve decided to talk a little about what I think has helped me progress to the current stage in my PhD.
1. Stubbornness and determination. Especially when doing a lab-based PhD and even when your research is computer-based things don’t always go to plan. Results can be a long time coming or completely unexpected. Equipment breaks, time is short, something in your model isn’t working or methods need optimizing and just when you think you have things sorted, something else needs a little tinkering with! Hence, being stubborn and determined to an extent, can help you to push through the barriers that can appear so that you can make progress.
2. Not being afraid to ask for help. Throughout your PhD you will need to use software, equipment and methods that are completely new to you. Even though it is a good idea to have a good go at working out things for yourself, asking for the help of others can really save you time pressing buttons when you aren’t sure what they all mean! Part of this means you need to spend a little time finding out what the people around you do – if you don’t know this then you don’t know who could be most helpful! Also, always remember to acknowledge those that help you and be willing to return the favour if needed. After all, if someone takes the time to help you and then when they need your help you brush them off, they’re not going to be so willing next time you’re stuck. It’s a combination of good manners and helping yourself out in the long term!
3. Self-control. PhD’s in my opinion are quite independent. I organize my own timetable, plan my lab and office work and decide my own hours. Apart from meetings and seminars, my time is my own. Hence, being able to do what work you need to do on time and keeping everything up-to-date does require some self-control. Getting into a daily routine is a good way of separating work time from relaxation time! This leads nicely onto my next point…..
4. Taking a break when needed! You don’t have to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even if this sometimes does feel appropriate! If you spend too long plugging away without a break you become more distracted and less productive. If you work yourself to the point you feel ill, you will end up being forced to take time off to recover, so don’t let things get to this stage! Everyone deserves a break sometimes! Don’t feel guilty about it, make the most of it!
5. Making the most of opportunities. There are lots of different ways that universities offer support to PhD students! Just because your’re not an undergrad doesn’t mean you aren’t supported! There are lots of courses you can go on to develop skills and meet other postgrads. There might also be lunches and informal meetings especially for postgrads or an area that is specifically designed for postgrads to meet and/or work. So, find out what your universities offers and have a go at a few things – you won’t know if they work for you unless you try them out!
6. Keeping calm. It is easy to start panicking. Especially when you are starting to near the end of your PhD and your still plugging away trying to get your results. You are only one person with one pair of hands so there is only so much you can do! Just keep calm, plan carefully and work hard – you can’t do anymore than your best! Panicking doesn’t help – it causes you to make mistakes, become distracted and unproductive and stresses you out. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control!
7. Maintaining a steady rate of work. Admittedly sometimes you need to put more hours in when deadlines are looming. However, if you work steadily throughout your PhD then the times you need to put more work in become less stressful and shorter!
8. Write everything down! You might think at the time you’ll remember how much of something you added, or how you changed that formula, but I will tell you now – you won’t. Therefore, if you keep good records of all your different stages of work, when you come to writing up, it is much easier to read through and recap what you have done, rather than trying to remember or unfold tiny scraps of paper you have randomly left about the place.
9. Start writing sooner rather than later. I know this one is annoying, but if you keep good records and write up methods as you go along and start to plan chapters, this makes starting thesis writing much easier as you have a template to work from. Personally, it takes me a long time to get into writing mode, so the more I have to start with, the easier it is to get going again.
10. Enjoy it! I know this is easier said than done! I’m confident that when all is done and dusted with my PhD, I will think back to myself and say ‘Why didn’t you relax a bit more?! It all worked out fine in the end!’. However, when you’re plugging away trying not to panic, enjoyment isn’t always the first feeling you have. So, I break this down into small victories – when an experiment works, when I finally get something done I’ve been pushing for, when I finish that annoying report, when I get some good feedback, when I find that piece of equipment I really need but didn’t think existed. It’s the small victories that keep morale up and the occasional fist pump in celebration shouldn’t be forgotten!
Happy PhD’ing kids!