Any words of wisdom for a 1st year PhD?

I’m in the first week of my PhD.

Before getting to this point I’ve made it through my degree and masters, completed research projects in 5 different labs and worked as a technician.
I think I’m about as prepared as I’m going to be.

When I was applying PhD students told me that I was crazy, postdocs offered a knowing look and supervisors encouraged me.
One thing that everyone had in common was that they gave me some advice.

A PhD's advice to prospective candidates - PhD comics no. 53

PhD’s advising prospective candidates – PhD comics no. 53

I’ve decided to chronicle some of the words of wisdom and things I’ve learnt along the way. This may help others but it’s also a record to see if I actually take any of it on board!
Or whether I will look back at this in 3/4 years and sigh ‘if only I had listened…’

Advice from past supervisors

  • Starting a PhD is exciting, and daunting at the same time – You are going to enjoy it
  • Have regular meetings with your supervisor
  • Get the balance right between working independently and asking for advice from your supervisor when necessary
  • ‘My best PhD students have been the ones who have designed experiments and only told me about them once they had done them, not advisable right at the beginning but work yourself up to this’


  • Make sure you set out the exclusion criteria clearly before you start
  • Always characterise your model before using it
  • Double check co-ordinates/values if the protocol has been passed on
  • Run projects in parallel so you always have something to work on
  • Make a record at the end of each experiment about what you’ve done and learnt

Writing and presenting

  • Organise your papers clearly from the outset
  • Your reference manager is your best friend
  • Get as must presentation experience as possible
  • Learn to critically analyse your results and write things up as you go along
  • Great is the enemy of good
  • Back up everything


  • Technicians, librarians and administration staff are your friends
  • Take advantage of University training and resources
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks – holidays are allowed
  • Help is always available from somewhere
  • An existence outside the lab is essential
  • Remember to think about life post-PhD

UPDATE 14/12/2014

After posting and tweeting earlier this week I got some more excellent feedback and advice which of course deserves a place on this blog.

From Twitter’s #PhD community

  • Best advice: plan short and long term
  • Start writing your thesis today. Start at writing intro chapters. It will change but easier to edit than create.
  • Make sure you look after yourself!
  • It’s all about writing. Write often, preferably daily. But enjoy all the other fun PhD stuff too
  • Make a wise, informed choice on what you want to pursue and maintain focus
  • Treat PhD like FT job: reg hours & fun wknds!(#nosciencesaturday!). Keep a presence in the dept. Write often & from the beginning.
  • Don’t forget there’s world outside the academia. Go out with friends, take a walk, eat good. Keeps the batteries charged.
  • My biggest piece of PhaDvice: own what you know & don’t know, & don’t ever apologise for being brilliant
  • Share your knowledge in the Twitter sound chamber because you never know who you’re reaching
  • Enjoy the journey. Peaks, troughs and hoops. In your darkest moments, remember your passion for the question
  • Enjoy it
  • Look at careers you might want to use your PhD in
  • Stay organised
  • It’s a tough road, but worth it
  • The only way to learn how to do a PhD is to do one

And I got lots of Good Luck too 🙂

Thanks you so much to everyone who contributed, favourited and re-tweeted – you know who you are!

There are of course many articles to read and people to ask, but these are the nuggets of advice I’ve picked up.
Do you think I’ve missed off any essential points?!

Please comment or tweet me!

This entry was posted in Labs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Any words of wisdom for a 1st year PhD?

  1. Gemma B. says:

    Reblogged this on The Journey To Me and commented:
    Great words of wisdom 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s