What I’ve learnt six months into my PhD…

Six months into my PhD: half a year has flown by and only now, finally, am I feeling I’m beginning to find my feet. The old cliché that it’s a marathon and not a sprint is so true with a project that will last (at least) three and a half years. There is a long way to go, and many more lessons to learn, but I’m keen to put down in writing a list of advice that I would have liked to have read when I first started.

• PhDs are a process of exploration: although you may have a destination in mind, you will have to go down every side road and alleyway and peer into every nook and cranny before you arrive. While on your journey, it is very likely the destination will change. This is all part of the process. Don’t feel that you have to rush, and enjoy the freedom you have in the early months.

• Following from this, it is important to know when to taper your exploring.  You can spend an infinite amount of time reading and reviewing to broaden your knowledge, but eventually you will lose the forward momentum. To avoid option paralysis, pick a path and follow it. Narrowing down your horizons may feel scary, but you will learn if this line of exploration works or not, and this is progress.

•PhDs can be lonely at times. No matter how social you are with your colleagues and how many different meetings, seminars and clubs you attend, there will always be times when you feel isolated. This is part of the parcel of becoming an expert in your niche field, while everyone around you is busy becoming an expert in their niche field. Talk to anyone and everyone about your project and don’t be afraid to approach new people to ask for advice. These are good quick fire remedies for loneliness.

•Put extra effort into time management. With so few official ‘deadlines’, it is very easy to procrastinate and take a long time, on what should be, insignificant tasks. Write yourself daily ‘to do’ lists and give yourself the satisfaction of ticking off tasks as they are completed. Create artificial deadlines and come up with ways to make yourself accountable, for example, tell your supervisor you will bring a document to your next meeting or offer to present your current work in a seminar.

•There will be times that you ask yourself the question ‘Why am I doing this ?!’. Take a breath and remember the (many) positives: the opportunity to study a topic you are passionate about in depth, the conference you are attending next month, the pub with your friends that night .  If you get a buzz from the freedom of exploring and creating knowledge, then persevere and embrace the journey, with all the ups and downs it throws at you.

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