Today, I want to discuss some helpful advice for PhD students that are starting soon. A PhD is a long journey and I am sure there are a million questions that you might have. I am here to address a few of those as well as answer any more that you might have. Instead of providing my email at the end, I’ll provide it now. So, you can email me with any questions you might have. My email is email@example.com.
Ok, so you are starting a PhD and you are a bit nervous about what to expect or how well you will do. There are quite a few things that we need to cover first, so you can start your grad school journey off really well. I want to p[provide some advice that I think will help you be able to make the most out of the next 4-8 years that you are here. So, let us get started on some advice for PhD Students.
Advice for PhD Students
1) 4 years will go by faster than you know
This is one of the truest things that anyone has ever told me. My doctorate will be a total of 4 years. Grad school will be a total of 6 years, which is insane to think about. These years have passed by so quickly, it hurts. When you first start you doctorate program, they’ll tell you that it’s a long 4 years. They are right, in a way. Sometimes it does feel long, but man, it can pass by really quickly. When you get to year 2, after you qualifying exams, things quickly pick up. You’ll be busier than ever and days and weeks will just fly by. Enjoy the ride.
2) You don’t need to be best friends with your adviser
I know way too many people that seem to be best friends with their advisers. It’s kind of weird and makes things awkward at times. You don’t need to be besties with your adviser. They’re your boss, pretty much, and they are here to guide you through this process of becoming a researcher. If they want to be friends then sure, be friends. Just know that you don’t have to be best friends with them. Heck, you don’t even have to like them lol. But, at least, try and get along with them. It will make your time in grad school way easier.
I have written quite a few posts on how important writing is in academia. You will write quite a few papers for class, journals, and the big thesis. If you start early and write every day, you will find writing to become so much easier and natural. For me, I write blog posts in the morning which helps to get me going to write maybe a bit of my thesis or even just an email lol. I have found tat writing 1000 words is so much easier now than when I first started my doctorate. Trust me. This might be one of the best pieces of advice for PhD students that I have.
4) Keep Active
You are going to be spending a good amount of time at a desk, writing, researching, and reading articles. Make sure to get up every so often and just get active. Sedentary lifestyles are not fun and will ruin your body. Weight gain can also occur and you don’t want that. Also, staying active and moving around will help you not fall asleep at your desk lol. You’ll feel more energetic during the day
I would suggest setting up time throughout the day to go on walks, hit the gym, or maybe do a bit of yoga in your office. Remember that a PhD is a marathon and not a sprint. You need to be able to make it to the finish line and staying active is one way to ensure that.
5) Don’t be afraid to fail
This piece of advice for PhD students is a learning experience that comes with time. At first, you are going to want to be perfect with everything. You want to make sure that all experiments go smoothly all of the time. They won’t lol. In fact, you may not be able to master doing an experiment for months. You are going to fail over and over and over. Do not be afraid of it. Seriously, failure is how you learn and become the best researcher out there. You think that ever good scientist out there just came up with all of their ideas on the first try? Heck no! They had to figure it out through failures. If they were afraid of failure, they wouldn’t have even tried and then we would have missed out on some very essential research.
6) Keep organized
I have a huge problem with being unorganized lol. My desk is a mess and I am missing a ton of key data that is somewhere on my computer. Don’t be like me. Stay organized and establish an organization method for files on your computer. This will help you when you go to write a paper. Searching for data that you need and can’t find is extremely frustrating. If you have a lab, keep some organization in there as well. It will help you do experiments and make sure there’s no contamination (contamination = bad results).
7) Find a way to handle stress
You are going to feel more stressed in a PhD program than ever before. You need a way to handle this stress before it causes burnout or hurts your mental health. I have written about how to manage stress (link here). These are great methods to use and I highly suggest you try some of them. Stress in grad school can lead to too many problems and make the whole 4 to 8 years a nightmare. If you can manage stress early, you will succeed in your PhD.
8) Ask Questions, even if you think they are dumb
Have you ever gone to a class and had a question but didn’t ask because you thought it was too stupid and you should know the answer? Me too. Make sure to ask those questions. It doesn’t matter if it is a dumb question because I guarantee most of the people around you will have the same question. Also, you are going to just have a ton of questions related to what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask them. The answers might really help you overcome a problem that you have. Many months have been wasted because I was afraid to ask questions that were really easy to answer. Now, I ask ever question ever so I can move forward with my research.
9) Take care of your mental health
Seriously, do this. This piece of advice for PhD students is absolutely the most important one. You will experience some weird emotions during grad school. You will feel anxious, sad, happy, lonely, annoyed, and a bunch of other feelings. Make sure to address these and find a way to combat against negative/toxic emotions. If you let anxiety run your life during grad school then you will have a bad time. There is no shame in getting help. Many times, your program will provide therapy for free. I did therapy and I truly believe that it is the reason I am still in grad school. If you want to know my experience with therapy, check out my post about it. Also, if you are still on the fence about therapy in grad school, shoot me an email and we can talk about it.
10) Have fun
Yes, you are in grad school to train yourself to do good research and science. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun along the way. Join a sports league, pick up cool new hobbies, and try out some new things before you become a full time employee and not a student. As I mentioned before, these years will pass quicker than a Florida rainstorm in July (for those not from Florida, the storms are fast lol). Making this time a fun time will be extremely beneficial to your mental health and I guarantee you will look back on grad school and smile. Grad school is a great experience, enjoy it.
I hope that you learned a bit from this post. This advice for PhD students is something I wish other’s would have told me when I first started. We need more grad students to blog about their time in grad school. If you have some advice that I should add to this list, please let me know in the comments.
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