Today is the official start of my third year as a PhD here in Cambridge and my 4th year in Cambridge as a student. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about myself–my capabilities, strengths, weaknesses. One of those things is to listen more carefully to others, particularly those who have gone through the journey (or odyssey) that is a PhD and lived to tell the tale. Here are some pieces of advice:
- Read an entire dissertation from front to back to understand the monstrosity of the task you’re undertaking and the difficulties of creating a cohesive narrative work.
- Outline your dissertation chapters, including the questions being asked in the chapter and what you want the reader to come away with having read it. What does the reader need to know going into the chapter? What do they not need to know?
- Collaborate! PhDs can be lonely, find others around you who can keep you company without distraction (suggestion: PhDs in other departments who can bring even fresher perspectives). Collaboration is also great for conference proposals and papers!
- Find a community: you’ll need time away from your work, make sure you have people you can have social time with. My community is in sport– and while it too takes up a lot of my life, it forces my time management.
- Set daily, weekly, and quarterly targets. I use a white board to do so–the satisfaction of crossing something off the list is fantastic.
- Don’t feel guilty. Don’t be afraid to take a break. This has been the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. I easily feel guilty for watching an episode of TV or for spending an hour answering emails instead of writing. As long as you hit your daily, weekly, and quarterly goals, watch as much tv or read as much of a non-PhD book as you’d like.
- Have your voice heard- sometimes it feels you’re shouting into a void that is just echoing back to you, but occasionally someone somewhere has something to say that lets you know you’re work is valuable.
Going into what is likely my final full year of the PhD, I’m making the commitment to remaining diligent on my work, putting in regular hours each day, even if it’s not writing. I know it’ll also be important pace myself and take each day as it comes: a chance to continue working on something I am passionate about.