Seven maxims for surviving your PhD

Photo credit: UBC Learning Commons / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: UBC Learning Commons / Foter / CC BY

Two years in to juggling a PhD, work, and family life, I like to think I’ve learned a few things about managing my time, keeping on track and staying sane. I’ve been wanting to share some of these tips for a while, and what better place than here?

  1. Keep a notebook. Ideas come at the most inconvenient times and in the most inappropriate places. If you have somewhere to scribble (or tap) them, great ideas will never be lost. I use evernote because I can access it on my phone, but there are plenty of options out there.
  1. Write often. Notes, abstracts, memos, papers, chapters, blogs, tweets… it doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to be clever. But you do have to get in the habit of writing. This is how you will be assessed and there’s no getting away from it.
  1. Keep going. Some days you will feel like you are wading through tar. Keep going. Some days it seems everyone and their dog is smarter than you. Keep going. Some days all your great ideas lead to dead ends. Keep going. Some days the mountain of reading on your desk seems insurmountable. Keep going. One book at a time. One paragraph at a time. One day at a time. Keep going. You get the message.
  1. Talk to others. Researchers, professors, administrative staff, students, cleaners, friends, the cat. Talk to them. About your research, your ideas, your plans for the future, your day. Talking can help you crystallise your thoughts. It can make problems seem more manageable, calm you down, lead to helpful advice and useful contacts. It’s good to talk.
  1. Go to events. You’ll have to choose wisely here so you don’t flout maxims 6 and 7, but you do need to put yourself out there. Be brave. Try something new. Present somewhere scary. Go where you’re invited. Good things will happen, I promise.
  1. Allocate working hours. And stick to them. It’s not just kids who need routine. Grown-ups do, too. If you allocate working hours, you will be more productive at work and more carefree at play.
  1. Look after yourself. Nothing is more important than your health. And I’m talking both mental and physical. Finishing your PhD will be all the more difficult if your mind and body are not in good working order. So don’t put off that doctor’s appointment. Make time for physical activity. Make time for you. Laugh, play, socialise. Eat well and drink plenty (and I mean water).

Of course, the beauty of a PhD is that it’s yours, to manage in a way that suits you. So feel free to flout my maxims to your heart’s content. But if you take just one piece of advice from this post, let it be number 7. There will be life after your PhD. Look after it.

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6 Responses to Seven maxims for surviving your PhD

  1. Liz says:

    Great maxims and applicable in many situations. I agree that number 7 is paramount. I recall being advised, during my psychotherapy training, to have a passion for something other than the work, something completely different.

  2. Claire says:

    Great post. Love number 3 and the idea that you just need to do one tiny bit at a time. Chimes with another blog post I have recent read!

  3. Barbara says:

    There are some good ideas that are transferable. Maxim 1 is excellent but also have a little tiny notebook. There are many places where you are not supposed to use a phone or device e.g. Doctor’s surgery but it doesn’t mean you cannot be inspired in a device-free zone. Maxim 2 is a practical suggestion, it is easy to get out of the habit of writing. Social media is such that the opportunities to practice are so much greater. Maxim 3 several of my friends have failed to complete their PhDs because they did give up, probably because they weren’t committed to all of your maxims. It seems such a shame not to complete (not that it is the end of the world) but I know my friends have had a personal sense of failure that they can’t shake off. Maxim 4 be careful, don’t bore people into the ground. Use them for support but be careful how you use them. However, I have no idea what your PhD is about so you are obviously using this maxim wisely. Maxim 5 rather you than me. I am sure this is sensible. Maxim 6 you were the only person I knew that compiled an hourly timetable for GCSEs – look where it got you so you know it works. Maxim 7 vital

  4. Ger says:

    I even keep a waterproof notepad in the shower. I found that Evernote on my phone didn’t work as well there 🙂

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