Top 10 Tips on How to prepare for your PhD

TIP #1 Practice your organisational skills and time management

To be a PhD student means to be your own boss, at least in terms of planning your own working hours and managing your research project. To be your own boss sounds great, but it can also be overwhelming unless you are prepared for the challenges it takes. You need to make sure you’re ready before your course starts by finding out what type of work schedule makes you most productive and able to stay inspired. In short you need to learn how to be your own boss!


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TIP #2 Get your academic skills in shape

Top sportsmen need strong muscles to perform their chosen sport at the highest level, and PhD students need a strong brain for their studies. You can’t start a PhD without sending your brain to the gym first and getting it into shape! Reading books about your academic subject is like lifting weights, and the more you read the more prepared you will be!

If you have recently finished your graduate studies, it is highly likely that your academic skills are in good shape because you spent the previous year devouring numerous books and articles about your subject. In this case you are probably ready to begin your PhD – but don’t forget to do some reading during the summer break!

If you opted to take a gap year or have been working for a few years before starting your PhD, your academic fitness may be at a low level. If this instance we advise you to get back into shape while waiting for the beginning of your studies by taking a few hours each day to read academic texts relevant to your potential PhD topic. Staying mentally active is the secret to a long and happy academic life!

TIP #3 Create a Plan B

When it comes to PhD, Plan A doesn’t always work. Sometimes your research won’t go as planned, sometimes you will feel completely uninspired, and various other issues that you’ve never even thought of may arise for you to deal with. This means it is always a good idea to create a Plan B! Think about the possible issues that might arise during your PhD and work out how you could solve them.

TIP #4 Don’t forget to have fun

Obviously you can’t be a complete hedonist if you have a 100,000-word thesis hanging above your head, however, during your PhD studies you should remind yourself to have some fun and enjoy your life. You can even set up your morning alarm to repeat the message over and over again. Without fun, high quality work is impossible! 

TIP #5 Learn how to work in a group and how to take criticism

As a PhD student, you will be a part of a small research group usually consisting of your supervisor and a few other students, which means you’ll need to learn how to work as a team. You will also be expected to give constructive criticisms as well as receive constructive criticism. If you’ve never experienced someone criticising your work before, you almost certainly will during your first PhD year. Thus you need to “desensitise” your ego and you can do this by undertaking short-term projects that will make you think from multiple perspectives and put you in the firing line for some criticism. 

TIP #6 Read personal experiences of other PhD students

The best way to learn what it takes to be a successful PhD student and to prepare for the start of your course is to read personal experiences of other PhD students or to talk to your friends who have already experienced what it takes to do a PhD. This is especially important if you did your undergrad or masters degree in a different country and you don’t know what to expect when coming to the UK. 

TIP #7 Follow what is happening inside your field

It wouldn’t make any sense to enter deep into a specialised field of study before finding out who’s who in your chosen area. Make sure you get to know who the most prominent researchers in your field are, what specific topics they are interested in, and which universities they work at. You may also wish to establish some contacts with these celebrated academics to give you a career boost should you ever decide to become an academic.

TIP #8 Practice self-motivation

If you were a graduate student or you had a “real job” for several years before starting the PhD, it is highly likely that you were constantly bombarded with specific projects to finish and that the feedback from your professors or your boss helped you remain inspired and set new challenges for yourself. However, during your PhD studies the external sources of inspiration will vanish, and you will need to master the art of inspiring yourself. You don’t need to be a genius to learn how to motivate yourself – it’s actually fairly simple. Before starting your PhD, try to constantly give yourself some short-term projects that require persistence and self-determination to get you into the swing of things. This will make you ready to aim even higher when your PhD course starts. 

TIP #9 Focus on long term goals instead of short-term pleasures

Most of the projects that you would have encountered during your masters degree or while working are relatively short in comparison to a PhD project. So before you start your PhD it’s important to shift your focus of expectation from short-term “pleasures” to long-term goals! Help yourself do this by thinking about what it is like to wait for years to reap the fruits of your labour – after all they do say that all good things come to those who wait!

TIP #10: Work on your language skills.

Last but not least, if you are a foreign student it is important that your English is on a high enough level before you begin your studies. Of course, in order to get accepted to your program you have probably passed the TOEFL or IELTS language tests. But don’t fool yourself! Passing these exams doesn’t necessarily mean that your academic English is at a high enough level to guarantee your success in your PhD. Most universities offer language courses for the upcoming PhD students before the start of the academic year, and that is one of the best ways to improve your English. Another useful thing to do is to surf the internet for various writing tips, and you can also contact university writing centres for more information or advice.

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