A few months have passed since I submitted my PhD thesis and this has given me some time to reflect on my PhD experience…..so I thought I would share my thoughts in this latest blog post.
I think the main point I would emphasise to fellow PhD students is to savour and enjoy your time as a PhD student! I think I spent far too much time worrying about my progress, whether I was doing enough, whether I was on target, whether I had enough results…..your PhD is a learning curve, a process you go through, so even though you do need to work hard and set yourself targets, you should try and enjoy the learning experience!
Talk to other people! Often there may be people working around you that are using the same techniques, facing similar problems or know someone who might be able to help or collaborate with you to help with your research. So, talk to fellow PhD students about their research, to post-docs and academics. Take up opportunities to present to people who do research in the same field and even those working in other areas that might have different ideas/approaches to suggest from their different viewpoint. Talking about your research, making posters and presentations and delivering them can take time and effort as well as being nerve-racking, but could really add value to your project!
Don’t compare yourself to others. It is very easy to look at what other PhD students are doing and start comparing progress, what results they have, how close they are to publication in comparison to you etc. I would recommend you avoid this! Everyone has different projects, work in different ways and progress at different rates for different reasons. Hence, all comparisons do is make you worry – not worth the hassle!
Seek out CV enhancing opportunities. There are so many different things you can get involved in as a postgraduate that can help enhance your CV and provide impressive examples of key skills to potential future employers. You can teach, volunteer, become involved in different communication and outreach projects and mentor other students to name but a few things. So why not try a few out, you might find things that you really enjoy which could help inform future career decisions.
Don’t take things personally. During your PhD you spend a lot of time talking about your research and will get lots of ideas, suggestions and make lots of changes. Sometimes you will appreciate and agree with the input of others and sometimes you won’t! You are the expert in your project and know more about it than anyone else. So, because you spend so much time working on it and it means a lot, it can sometimes be easy to take constructive criticism personally. I would say that 99.9% of the time when people make suggestions, they are not trying to offend or upset you, they are trying to help you! So see their suggestions as advice to consider, not a bad reflection on you and your work ethic.
Keep calm and carry on! You’ll have good days and you’ll have and bad days. The good days you can celebrate and the bad days you can learn from and move on. Not everything is going to work perfectly first time, otherwise there would be no point in doing a PhD to learn about the most successful ways to do research!
Learn how to work most effectively with your supervisor. They are human too and have strengths and weaknesses. To reap the most benefit from them as a support source try and work out how you can get the most out of them. Do they prefer e-mails, phone calls or face-to-face meetings? When do they have the most free time? When are they busiest? How long do they take to provide feedback? If you can start to work these types of things out early on, you can plan your work in a way that means you can get the most support from your supervisor.
A PhD is a great experience! Despite the stress, worry, trials and tribulations, I don’t regret a minute of my PhD. I’ve learnt so much, become more independent and grown-up, improved all of my key skills and met some great people along the way. I genuinely believe that no other role I could have taken on in the last four years would have challenged me as much or given me as much satisfaction.
Your PhD is what you make it – so make it fabulous!
Stay tuned for my next blog on my post-PhD experience so far!