Starting the long and windy road to becoming a Doctor – how to survive starting a PhD

It is coming around to that time of year again when campus will be crawling with people; excited freshers starting their university experience, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates back again for another jam-packed year, and let’s not forget, all those new and continuing postgraduates.

It can be just as daunting for a new PhD student as it is for a fresher. Moving to a new city, having to make new friends, starting a brand new course, it can all be very overwhelming, even if this is at least the second time of doing so. But with a few hints and tips, starting a PhD can be such an exciting time for any student.

1) Be Social

Try to get involved in social events, particularly at the beginning of the year. PhDs can be a very stressful lonely experience, so having a good group of people around you can be the only thing keeping you sane! Even if you don’t drink, there are loads of activities you can join in on: the university Postgrad Society has weekly events and most departments have their own PhD Society too. Keep your eyes peeled and try to join in as much as you can.

2) Join a sports club

This is a great way to let off some steam after a long day in the lab or at the computer. Even if you can’t commit enough time to be in a university sports team full time, most clubs have social teams or social practice where there is no commitment and you can rock up whenever you like. Exercise has loads of health benefits too and can reduce stress so why not?

3) A PhD is a marathon not a sprint.

You aren’t expected to get all your data and finish your thesis before Christmas of first year has come around – there is a good reason PhDs last 3-4 years. Take your time.

4) Don’t compare yourself to others
It can be hard to get out of the undergraduate habit of comparing yourself to the rest of your year group. But doing a PhD is very different. You will become an expert on your line of work, but no one else, probably in the world, will be doing the same things as you. So there is no point looking at other people’s work thinking you aren’t as good. Concentrate on you and no one else.

5) Plan, plan, plan

In my eyes you can never plan enough, but just having a simple list of what you want to achieve, whether just in that week or in the next few months, will really help you put your PhD in perspective. It can be hard to plan such a length of time and there will be things going wrong along the way but having a starting point will at least get you going and also keep your goals realistic.

6) Make the most of your supervisor

Make sure you meet with them at least once a month, even better weekly. This will let you talk through your ideas and problems with someone and get a second opinion, as well as being able to fully establish if you are on the right track or not. Your supervisor is there for a reason so make the most of it!

7) Take a break

Don’t be afraid to take a holiday. It can feel like you can’t or shouldn’t take holiday as most PhD students don’t get a set amount of holiday. But make sure you take some time off, for your mental wellbeing if nothing else. It’s important to have a rest and recharge.

So all that’s left to say is GOOD LUCK. Doing a PhD may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but it will also be enjoyable. And if all else fails, as least you will be a Dr in a few years time!

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