I am now half way through my PhD (time wise that is, definitely not content wise!) and I have recently had a couple of friends start PhDs in the same department. Having spoken to them I have come to realise just how hard that first year as a fledgling PhD student is. So here’s 5 tips that I wish someone had spelled out for me in my first year. I hope it helps at least some of you!
1. The Undeserving Complex – this is something we all suffer from no matter how far through a PhD we are. It’s the constant feeling that we don’t deserve to be here, that we will never be as intellectually well rounded as our peers. This is complete nonsense. You are at least as good as your peers at what you do and you know more about your topic than almost anyone else out there. Be confident in that fact! A colleague recently told me that I come across as extremely capable at what I do, while its lovely to receive such a complement, it made me realise that I still have the Underserving Complex and should acknowledge that I am good at what I do and be more confident in myself.
2. Conversation – don’t be afraid to talk to the other PhD students in your department (and others). They are or have been through exactly the same things are you are experiencing no. They can help you. Most of the time the things you stress about in your first year don’t warrant that level of worrying! Don’t forget to talk about something other than your PhD and the topic once in a while. Having friends in other departments is a great way to do this as they won’t automatically understand the finer details of your topic, nor will you their’s!
3. Oxygen and Alcohol – don’t forget to BREATH! It does us all good every now and then to take some time off. Even if this is just a few hours in the evening to watch some trashy tele (a personal favourite habit of mine), doing something that isn’t directly related to your PhD or even the topic is good! It gives your brain a chance to relax. Going to the pub is a great way to get to know your colleagues and can also show you that supervisors are people too! It provides the opportunity to have those conversations to help you through the twists and turns of PhD life. It’s also just plain good fun!
4. Routines – have a routine that suits you. If the university has provided you with a personal working space, get into the habit of going to it and working there regularly. This will help you to get actual work done. Don’t feel like you have to work the same hours as every other PhD in the department. Work the times that suit you best but be aware the workload of a PhD is more often than not like having a 9-5 job and sometimes more!
5. Network – finally, put yourself out there. Go to conferences. Be brave enough to present a paper. Talk to others in your area of work, and others that are not. Share your ideas. Talking to those that have been in your profession for years is a great way to pick up lots of helpful tips and most are happy to give advice and help, after all many will have been exactly where you are right now!
I hope this helps some PhD students out there be it new or old. Happy PhD-ing!