I was asked to contribute to a seminar for new HDRs at my university and prepared the following (rough) comments. I thought that these could be useful for a wider audience. Feel free to comment and discuss. 🙂
Some useful tips on how you manage your research
- Accept that sometimes things will change.
- Your wellbeing comes first.
- No one is productive 100% of the time. Alternate between tasks depending on your energy levels and the way that you work.
- There is no right way to be a PhD candidate. Your way is likely as valuable as others.
The importance of your research
- Your research should be important to you but cannot be the only important thing in your life. You are considering a PhD because you are smart and capable but your ability to complete a PhD thesis is not the only thing that makes you worthy.
- Be involved in your area of research but do not feel like you need to let it take over your life.
- Find different ways to discuss your research whether it is with peers (non-academic or otherwise), conference/seminar presentations, blog posts, twitter, journal articles. Get used to explaining why your project is important in a myriad of ways. This will give you useful skills but will also help you to see the importance of your work when you aren’t feeling it.
Has your project changed and if so how
- My project has changed along the way but not significantly from my original idea and passion. It has become much more refined which is a normal process that supervisors can help with.
Discussions about the importance of work/life balance
- Find your people. They will usually be other postgrads and will be essential in times that you doubt yourself or when you have things to share. If you are lucky you have these friends for life and will be able to help each other along the way.
- Do not make yourself miserable by sitting in your office from 9-5 if it is not the way that you like to work.
- Mix up your working environments, tasks, and schedule from time to time. Find what fits best and don’t be afraid to change.
Attending professional development courses
- Take advantage of the opportunities that you have to expand your portfolio of skills while you have access to them. There are so many things to try, even though you do not need to try them all..
Networking to increase opportunities during and beyond your PhD
- Your fellow postgrads are the most valuable connections that you can make. Network with them first. You will get support from them in so many ways that you are likely yet to even anticipate that you will need.
- Ask people questions at public events to show your interest.
- Never assume that someone will not be useful for you to network with. Opportunities are everywhere.
Communication with your Supervisor, maintain regular contact and meetings
- Consider your supervisors carefully. What do they have to offer you?
- Do not be afraid to ask for the help and support that you need
- Discuss working styles and arrangement ahead of time and put something in writing to refer to, just in case.
- Keep your supervisors in the loop as things change. They don’t have to be your best friends and probably won’t be but they should know if something is happening with you that will impact your project.
- Ask for feedback, drafts reviewed and other things that you need.
- If situations change and you need to change supervisors, that’s okay and common.
Preparation for your career path
- Think about how your project relates to different audiences.
- Take advantage of opportunities to network but be prepared to be surprised by who might be the most “useful” to you.
A note on Imposter Syndrome
Your way of being a scholar is valuable, especially if it does not look like what you think traditional academia is. Higher education is always changing and is made better by its diversity of people. You are here for a reason.