After a quick internet search you’ll find there’s a number of blog entries and the like detailing the top tips of PhD survival. Not to repeat the advice, but I’d like to add my perspective nearly 18 months in (and give everyone a break from diving photos!) This is a fairly long ramble but stick with it! Some tips build on the advice of blogs such as:
1). Keep a notebook:
I love to write things down. Aside from making “to do” lists and adding to the ways you can procrastinate, keeping a log of thoughts is a great way to: monitor various tangents your PhD was heading, a place for random email addresses/contact info, thoughts, ideas, training notes, references to look up…etc. etc. The idea behind the notebook is that you flick through it and remind yourself of what’s in there. I have two- one that sits on my desk in the office, and my field notes containing interview data, observations and everything I’ve been working on since I started my trip. Online tools are also great for keeping all your random notes in one place.
2). Get Organised:
There’s a definite lag time from the start of a PhD until you really get stuck in. This is mostly due to you finding your feet, deciding which areas interest you and catching up on all the literature in the field. My main point would be don’t let this go on too long before you start making plans (and stick to them) and get a rough timeline together with goals.
My PhD has been great for developing a level of organisation I didn’t even know existed. I’ve always managed my time effectively, but this latest section of my work has had me scheduling interviews in 4 different countries (considering other peoples’ schedules). All the logistical organisation (flights, transport, accommodation) took a serious amount of time which needs to be factored in when arranging fieldwork- I’m sure I’d be able to do it much faster now, but I often had to balance a lot of unknowns. Factored into that was a dive schedule (not technically part of my PhD but I’ll come onto that).
Anyway, whatever form your PhD takes, you not only need to be able to organise yourself and your work load, but all the other things under project management.
3). Take a break:
I’ve definitely not reached the meltdown stage yet (as some of my colleagues beginning the write up are fast approaching!), but taking a break is a necessity. Throughout studying it’s always important so you can absorb what you’re learning and reset, a PhD is no different. Not allowing yourself to turn into a Gollum-like creature with pale waxy skin because you’ve been sat in front of a computer screen for 18 hours a day is a high priority.
Whilst working away on interview transcription, writing etc. in between data collection half way around the world- I am actually half way around the world and do not intend to let opportunities to see some of the amazing places I’m visiting pass me by. It’s all about balance.
Increasing your web presence during your PhD makes sense. There are so many great tools out there: blogging Twitter Facebook, LinkedIn… the list continues. Being fairly new to blogging I’ve already received great feedback from just a few short entries. Responding to updates relating to your research is great for collaboration and the internet is such a fantastic platform for science communication (public and academic) that it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity of getting your research out there!
5). Update your CV:
Always handy. I try to update mine at least every year. You never know when you may need to send it to someone. It also helps you keep track of the great skill set you’re developing (as does browsing at job adverts occasionally).
6). Extra work-related experience:
Have a chance to work shadow or do a placement? Definitely take it.
Equally, if there are any opportunities related to Uni. I became a Graduate Teaching Assistant for a few months before I left on my trip. There are always opportunities to demonstrate and get involved with undergraduate studies if you’re in that environment. Other work always pops up- I also did a Marine Mammal Rescue Course with BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue).
7). So what do you do? Err……
Have other interests! From the time of the personal statement back when I finished A-levels, “extra-curricular activities” were often mundane sentences such as “I played in the netball 1st team for Y11” or “I’m grade six piano” (I never did either I can’t throw and cannot do anything music related to save my life). But (!) you’ll find extra stuff you do for fun is now even more important for taking a break.
Diving is a big part of my PhD life. I’ve been diving for about 4 years and have greatly increased the amount I’m able to do since moving to Scotland, being a member of GUSAC (Glasgow University Sub-Aqua Club) and having colleagues and friends that also love to dive. Although not part of my data collection, it’s extremely important for me to get out into the waters around Scotland (and abroad) and witness marine life; it’s fantastic if I can also dive in protected areas.
Since diving requires a good/excellent level of physical fitness, anything else I can do to compliment that is always getting me out of the office.
As wonderful as my trip is, a lot of my work is desk based. No matter how much the topic interests you, you will have days of boredom. Whether this is from writing a long piece, extremely repetitive data analysis or whatever, everyone has those days.
Doing a PhD you should have a pretty good idea of how you work best. Don’t ignore it. My best hours of the day vary depending on what I’m working on. Sometimes writing I much prefer to work until 2 or 3 in the morning (a remnant of undergrad days I’m sure). If I’m struggling I usually don’t sit there staring at the screen or let myself be distracted by the internet as that doesn’t help. I just get up, do something else and come back to it. Sometimes changing where you’re working helps (you can even turn it into a game of hide and supervisor seek!).
Without them to talk to, you’ll go insane.
10). Keep writing:
I have a history of working extremely well days before a deadline, thriving on the pressure. With only hours to go I find a great focus and consistently produce my best work. This is not an endorsement to leave work to the last minute, I was often completely prepared with only the actual writing of a report, essay etc left to complete.
However, a PhD is 3 years long and even if it can be split into distinct projects/sections, that’s still a massive amount of writing. This time my technique won’t work. Sigh. I’m not great at self-imposed deadlines I’ll freely admit, but continuing with little sections of writing, thinking of them as miniature essays, I’m continuously jotting things down so that when the time comes for an epic writing session at least I’ll have done the groundwork.
Just because. (Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephy_nicole/403161637)