How to Survive PhD Studies

Tips to survive PhD

The one best way to survive your PhD life is to make a good impression with your PhD supervisor. This is the starting point of your survival technique during your PhD. If you are able to convince your supervisor about your worth and goodness and passion for research, you are on the right path. You can survive your PhD easily and finish it without any problems. The second best way is to write a good research paper. This will help you in your PhD journey. The third best option to survive PhD is to write a good literature review and a thesis. These 3 ways are powerful ways to bring hope in your PhD life and journey.

Have a growth mindset in order to survive PhD

First and foremost thing that you need to have is a growth mindset that means you do not need to be genetically intelligent to be successful in Ph.D. When you look at things with a growth mindset you will start believing that abilities can be developed with hard work and continuous dedication. By having a growth mindset, you will develop a love for learning and develop the resilience that is a vital thing for many accomplishments in life. Only sincere efforts, continuous work, and dedication can make you get success. You also need to be ready to put a great amount of hard work to become successful in Ph.D.

Deal with good days and bad days

Not every day is similar and not every day brings happiness or sadness. When you have a good day, try to spend it by doing most of yourself and doing productive things and when you have a bad day, try to remain positive and optimist. During your Ph.D., you will also come across such days but the one thing you need to remember is that you need to be positive and confident in both days.

Work smarter to survive PhD and not harder

Staying busy does not guaranty you a success. Such belief sometimes leads to less productivity instead of always remaining busy and trying to work hard you need to be very thoughtful and efficient while doing your Ph.D. To do this, you need to follow few things such as you need to complete your most important things first, you need to skip unimportant details, phone calls and use of social media, and remain focus on one thing. Remember quantity matters more than quality, if you write 5000 words thesis with maximum quality and smartness then it is better than 50,000 words thesis which does not make any sense to anyone.

Change your approach

There is a difference between grad school and Ph.D. institute, the requirements of both these things are different and the criteria of assessment is also different. During Ph.D., your supervisor and other people expect more maturity and serious attitude from you. At the same time, they also expect you to be a critical thinker and problem solver. Do not approach yourPh.D. the way you did your master program. You need to change your approach of studies like at graduation level you are hardly required to produce something new and share your evaluation on something but in Ph.D. you are required to understand things from different lenses and evaluative approach. 

Start as early as possible

If you want to become successful in Ph.D., you must first try to develop your base and knowledge in your subject on which you want to do research. You must be an expert in your subject and must learn that subject from school level. Never think that it is late to start working and studying on your subject the best time is present so do not think much that how would you study that subject how will you be able to do research just get started and never stop learning.

Develop a habit of Self-study

Unlike schools and other grad level institutes where there is always a teacher who pushes you to study and complete your assignment in Ph.D., no one will be there to push you. Ph.D. is the first degree of your academic career where you will be only responsible for your success and failure. You have to develop a habit of self-study to complete your Ph.D.Your parents might also not be there to ask you about your homework and other tasks but you have to take lead and make your own self-accountable and responsible for completing your work. The self-study habits can be developed by making a schedule and following it. Once you become habitual of strictly following your own schedule then no one can distract you. In simple, you need to take charge of your own learning.

Don’t waste time or else you cannot survive PhD

Time is money and it is a priceless asset which a person can have. During your Ph.D. do not waste your time by thinking that you cannot do anything or thinking that it is difficult to do, but focus that why you have started and why you want to do it. Your time can get waste by attending informal parties, using social media more and being procrastinated. So, make the best use of your time and achieve your goal in stipulated time.

Have coffee

Coffee is like liquid wisdom which boosts your energy and gives you the strength to do productive work. You have hardly seen any research student who does not appreciate the wonders of coffee. If you don’t like coffee then you may have any drink which makes you feel refresh but having something refreshing while working is a very necessary thing. Drinking coffee during work revives your energy and purpose of doing work therefore, don’t afraid to take short breaks for making instant coffee. The refreshing drinks whether coffee or drink helps you to survive in long working days and hours in front of your computer screen. The caffeine in coffee helps you to get rid of those sleepy heads and focus on your work.

Read a lot to survive PhD

It has always been suggested that never choose your Ph.D. topic on the basis of your pre-assumptions and naïve observations. Instead, read lots of papers, search about hot topics in your field, identify gaps in the field and then finalize your topic. If you select any topic without the help of literature then you will be stuck badly. In your thesis, you need to justify with references that how that topic is important and why it matters. Therefore, you need to read all important theories, policies, and practices of your area to make a mindful decision about your topic.

After finalizing your thesis topic, make sure you are doing something unique and not replicating anyone else’s study. Once you take all these careful measures, then you need to justify your topic with solid reasons and writing which gaps will your study be filling and you will need to highlight the scope and importance of your research. The reading phase does not end here but you need to keep reading about new developments and researches in your field to remain updated.

The more you read, the more you learn. Without reading you can never survive in your Ph.D. you will have to study journals, reports, policies, books and other scientific research papers to get through your Ph.D. degree. If you avoid reading when you are doing Ph.D. then you are doing a big mistake of your life. When you read on hard copy always keep a highlighter and pen with yourself so that you can highlight important points and write a few summarizing key points of paragraphs this will help you in writing your research. If you are reading a soft copy then do not leave anything to use later just keep on inserting important points in your thesis because if you leave it you will lose it. Another thing you can do is to make a word file with the name of the topic or are on which you are reading and copy and paste important points with the link from which you are reading.

Put first thing first while doing PhD

There are a number of things which you have to do apart from doing a Ph.D. but always try to prioritize your list of tasks according to their importance. When you have your schedule then sort out which is the most important thing that you should do first. For example, in a day you have a meeting with the supervisor and a party with friends so you must decide which thing is most important for you at that time. Of course, meeting with a supervisor is most important friends can understand and they can wait for you or parties can be held later with friends. This habit helps you in being organized and disciplined which ultimately make you become successful Ph.D.

Think of new ideas and novel ways

The sole purpose of Ph.D. depends on finding the answer to your research question in the most unique way and of most important question which portrays that you are a real independent researcher. The success in Ph.D. is entirely dependent on new ideas and novel insights and these things only come when you read a lot. Think of topics and issues that might have hurt you or you think is a major issue for many persons. You must try to do things which make you different from others, do not go for anything because others are doing just make yourself unique and work on topics in which you are convinced and are able to follow and justify.

Long term planning

Failing to plan is planning to fail. While doing your Ph.D., you must plan each and everything carefully and by thanking all of its consequences and benefits.  Your research topic and field should be aligned with your career goal and the field in which you want to work in the future. This simply means you need to choose your research topic according to your career. If you want to work in policy making, industries, automation, etc then your thesis topic must be aligned with this so when you go for a job interview then you can highlight that you have already worked in that field and you have expertise in that field. If you are doing a Ph.D. in one field and you want to work in another field then the work done in Ph.D. will not go along with your career.

Think of a researchable topic

You must be very realist while selecting your Ph.D. thesis topic or subject. There are usually no boundaries for research but there are few limitations which make any topic not researchable. The reason behind those not researchable topics are:

  1. Less significant topics
  2. Thesis topic possess no real life implications
  3. Inappropriate use of research methods or data collection tools
  4. High budget is required to complete a thesis
  5. Data collection process requires to visit no go areas
  6. The subject of the study or the topic is archaic
  7. Personal stories and narratives of participants are required
  8. Prior information of topic is not available
  9. A topic which is too broad or too narrow

One of the examples of such topics is researching about effects of prayers on students’ success. This topic is very superficial and it cannot be searched. Another example is when you have to ask about child sexual harassment from them, no one feels comfortable in sharing such stories, very few people tell you that they have been sexually harassed. Therefore, you need to be very careful and think about all ends before selecting your thesis topic.

Record everything during PhD meeting to survive

Never trust your memory because it is one of the greatest enemies of humans. We remember things when we want to forget and forget things when we want to remember. It is suggested that when you have any meeting with your supervisor always record what s/he discusses. There are many chances that you get ideas or get your confusions cleared by your supervisor discussion. Some supervisors do not always directly tell you what they want you to see or read but they indirectly indicate in their conversation, therefore, you must be listening to that conversation very carefully to take notes and move to that direction.

As a part of practice or self-criticism, you should also record a conversation with yourself and justify your reasons and explanation of your thesis. This way can help you improve a lot because you will learn about your own weaknesses and strengths and at the same time you will also be taking measures to improve those things.

The rule of recording does not only applies to supervisor meeting or recording own practice, but you should also record everything during your data collection as well. So that when you sit to write your thesis, you do not scratch your head and think about how that thing happens and how can I make this conclusion. Therefore, it is very important to record even a minute detail during your data collection process.

Familiarize yourself with the culture of the university

Every university has its own rules, regulations, and culture you must need to get yourself familiarized with these things of the place where you are studying. Apart from this, there are few cultures and rules in an institution which are not written explicitly, you need to understand those by interacting with different persons. You can do this by interacting with your seniors and attending their presentations and thesis defenses. By these things, you will learn what are they been expected, what type of work they have done, how the thesis defense evaluating committee commented on them and what criticism they faced.

Teach students of your same field

You can always learn more by teaching others. It is the most recompensing job for Ph.D. students. By teaching, you will remain in your field and you will indirectly by enhancing your knowledge and gaining new perspectives in your field.

Attend and present your work in different conferences and seminars

While doing your Ph.D., you must attend conferences and seminars which are related to your field of study. Your learning should not be stick within your institute, if you have financial support then you must go outside your institute and learn from the world. This will help you in knowing different perspectives and meeting the people of similar field, you can discuss your thesis with them and have their views and feedback on it. Not only this, but you should also participate and present your work in those seminars. Many scholars attend these conferences and they ask potential questions from you about your work in this way you can improve your doctoral research.

Use different software and applications

While doing a Ph.D., you will be becoming more computer and technological aware by doing lots of experiments with different software and learning when and how to use that software. You will come to know a number of the conceptual framework making software which helps you develop your conceptual framework of research, you will be using different referencing software, you will be using analyzing software and you will also be using different writing software and applications to make your thesis look comprehensible.

Choose your supervisor carefully

A supervisor plays an important role in your Ph.D. studies therefore, you should carefully choose your supervisor. Before choosing your supervisor you must do research about him/her like you should see if you and your supervisor have the same fields of study. You should also know how many students have your supervisor supervised, what were their results and how did they get feedback. Other than this, your supervisor should have mastery and expertise in the topic which you have selected, if s/he does not have that then he will have to work more than you in order to understand your topic which is a difficult thing for many supervisors as they have many other works as well. Also, before choosing your supervisor you should ask for the papers or book chapters which s/he has published so you get an idea what type of work is your supervisor is interested in. Few of the things which you should consider before selecting your supervisor are experience, number of publications, the field of the study, availability, number of students whom s/he has supervised, type of feedback and values and perceptions of time. You should also see that what type of opportunities does your supervisor can provide you and what other people perceive him/her and the most important thing is that whether you like that person or not because you will have to spend lots of time with him/her to get feedback and discuss difficult things.

Take the proper time of your supervisor

There are few supervisors who remain very busy and does not give much time to supervisees. If this is the case with you, then you need to push your supervisor by yourself. You may do this by taking his daily schedule, often visiting his/her office, offering him tea or coffee together and helping him doing some of his/her work. Other than this, when you go to meet with your supervisor always have everything clear about what you have to discuss and what is the agenda of the meeting. By following this way, you can save you and your supervisor’s time.

Meet your supervisor on a daily basis to survive PhD

A supervisor is the most potential and relevant person during your Ph.D. studies. If you want to remain on track then you should meet your supervisor on a regular basis which means at least four meetings are must in a month. But the number of the meeting may vary according to your thesis phase, for instance, if you are in data collection phase then a number of meetings should be more because you will have to discuss issues, observations and primary findings with your supervisor. Similarly, if you don’t meet with your supervisor much during the data collection process or field visits then you will not understand what modifications or additional things you can do in your thesis.

Other than this, when you often meet with your supervisor then s/he will come to know that you are serious about your work and your supervisor will also know your progress of the thesis. In the same way, if any revisions are to be done in your thesis then your supervisor can guide you in that as well during the process of thesis.

Take detail notes of supervisor meeting

When you meet with your supervisor take close attention to the points and discussions that s/he is making. Ask for clarifications when you don’t understand any question and don’t hesitate to ask any question or share your views by being afraid of your supervisor. Remember if you don’t ask then you will not learn. When your supervisor says anything then make notes of what s/he says because this will help you in writing your thesis or finding related papers.

Make a timeline of your work plan

A timeline to complete thesis work as a road map to follow, therefore, make a timeline and strictly follow it. Make sure the research timeline that you make is feasible and have enough time for revision of your research work. Most often, many people collect data at the end of the study and by doing this they have a very short time to write findings and discussion chapter which is considered as the heart of any research. So, in order to become successful in Ph.D., you must leave a time margin to write your findings at the end and revise it. Your timeline should clearly show when what you are supposed to do.

Build your own structure of work

As it has been already discussed that a Ph.D. is an individual and independent work, you don’t have a proper structure to do your thesis work. It is apparent that when you don’t have a proper structure and an environment then you cannot do productive work. To address this issue, you need to make your own structure of working on your thesis. You need to have space where you can keep all your space and set a time as you have in school so that you can work in those hours. Let’s say like you have to create a school for yourself and your learning. Only by putting these conditions and pushing yourself you will accomplish your goal of completing a Ph.D.

Your work zone should represent you as a person. You may keep your files, photos and anything that inspires you to work and feel comfortable. In your work zone, you should also paste your research schedule and sticky notes which remind your important tasks. Try to keep your work zone neat and clean. Once you are in your work zone, only focus on your thesis work but when you leave it you should be relaxed.

Keep the backup of your data to survive PhD

This is the 21st century and unlike past PhDs of these days are not supposed to write on paper with a pen. Your thesis work is supposed to be written with the help of some software and with the help of technology. As the software and technologies work with machines like laptops and computers so you should not rely on them because they can be damaged at any time. In order to avoid any mishap and undesirable event, you should keep your data on Google Drive, USB or on other cloud apps so, if God forbid anything happens with your machine then your data should remain safe and secure. Because of these reasons, you must always have a backup of your data.

Reflect on your learning’s

Reflection helps you to identify which things have you done, how did they go, what did you learn and how can you do those things better if you have to do it again. It is a metacognitive process where you think about your own thinking and evaluates your own behaviors and actions. You have to do some things when you are doing a Ph.D. You already have to make a schedule and a thesis work timeline therefore, you need to reflect each day or week that which productive things have you done and how those things are helpful or not helpful. By doing this, you will have a check on yourself and you will come to know how much you have achieved and how much more is remaining.

Build a community of learning

Just because you are doing a Ph.D., it does not mean you have to remain alone with no or fewer friends. If you want to survive Ph.D. then you need to build a community of good friends and have a healthy discussion with them about your study. It is not an isolation period at all. Hang out with your friends when you have time and invite them to your house because they are the ones who understand your problem and will be with you in your good and bad times. The community of good friends plays an important part during this Ph.D. journey. While doing a Ph.D., you do not have friends or classmates as we had in our school and grad life, you will be working on project alone for three-four years so it is very important to have a community of good people around to discuss any issue or point and get to know another dimension of your problems.

While there are people who love to see you excel in your studies but at the same time, there are few people who do not wish to see your progress. You must know carefully that who is there to support you sincerely.

Make a critical friend

While it is important to have diverse friends from different community and culture, but at the same time when you are doing a Ph.D., you should have a friend who you can count one. Like the one who can guide you when you are stuck, who can motivate you when you feel depressed and the one who can criticize your research work. That type of friend is called a critical friend, you are supposed to do mock thesis defense in front of that person and share your problems and get feedback from him/her. By doing this, you can improve a lot and your critical friend can identify your mistakes before your committee members can see.

Try to look for a sponsor

No doubt, Ph.D. is the greatest experience of life but it also comes with a number of challenges and one among those challenges is lack of financial resources. You can overcome this issue by having a sponsor for your Ph.D. There are a number of ways through which you can find a sponsor, one simple way is to search Ph.D. scholarship in Google after typing this you will find a number of scholarships in your country. Other than this, some universities also give student loans which they can pay after completing their degree. Likewise, if you are working somewhere then your company or organization can also sponsor your Ph.D. expenses. The scholarship can lower down your burden and make you feel relaxed about paying huge fees for getting a degree. But one thing you need to remember is that the degree of best students is mostly sponsored therefore, always try to maintain good grades to retain sponsorship.

Publish pieces from your dissertation

Try to publish components of your thesis and quote them in your thesis paper. When you do this, then your opponent committee will not have any reason to reject your thesis because it has already been published. Try to find potential and relevant journals in which you can send your papers for publications and quote your own papers in your thesis, this will enhance the credibility of your thesis work and help you become successful in completing Ph.D. Remember one thing that does not send your whole thesis paper at once to a single journal because in your thesis there must be different components and research questions, you may make paper from one component and then send to one journal and another to another journal.

Read each email sent by the administration

Always remain in touch with your university administration and try to know what is happening around. Also, read each email sent by your administration because if you don’t read then you may miss important dates or opportunities which help you in your Ph.D. Sometimes, it happens that administration reschedules different events, therefore, it is a must thing to read emails sent by them.

Take rest but never give up during PhD

During the period of Ph.D., there are times you feel like giving up and not doing any efforts to complete it or feeling demotivated because of some reasons. If you feel any of these things remember one thing that difficult storms make the best sailor. Instead of giving up on your Ph.D. totally, you must take rest for few days or meet your family or friends and after that when you come back to work again you will feel fresh and motivated.

Know your thesis evaluating committee

The rules of each university are different, some allow students to know their evaluators while others do not allow. So, if your university allows knowing the evaluators of your thesis then you must get a bit of information, their interests and their field of study before submitting your thesis. These things can help you survive your Ph.D. because you present your work by acknowledging the level and interest of your audience and make yourself prepared according to it.

Read your doctoral thesis carefully before submitting

Your doctoral thesis is the most important thing about your Ph.D. You must not submit it without reviewing it and reading it. You should read it carefully and get it reviewed from anyone else. Make sure there is no type or any other writing error, it should be perfect from your side before submission. Also, do not submit it without the permission of your supervisor because if you do this your supervisor might not support you anymore. Make sure that you get your thesis reviewed and approved by him before submitting. You must feel confident and satisfied before submitting your thesis.

Do some mock defense to survive PhD

Your thesis defense can be the most challenging part of your Ph.D. if you don’t prepare yourself well. Therefore, before having actual thesis defense do some mock defense in front of your friends and supervisor and ask them to ask as many questions as they can so you can be well-prepared when you go to the actual thesis.

Manage your emotions during PhD

When you control your emotions and attitudes then you don’t fall into the wrong state of mind. Your thesis defense evaluating committee will try to put you in problem and ask most difficult questions but you don’t have to feel anxious and nervous. You need to make yourself believe and prepared to that extent where you can say to yourself that yes you know everything. Also, be ready to face some unanticipated questions other than those which you have already in your mind.

Take care of yourself to survive PhD

Though Ph.D. is tough and important as well you also need to take care of yourself first because you can’t pour from an empty cup. Before doing anything else just put yourself first and take care of your meals and everything which is necessary for your well-being.

If you are able to do all these things then it is guaranteed that you will be successful in your Ph.D. studies.

Syam Reddy

Hello, My name is Syam, Professor of English and Mentor for Ph.D. students worldwide. I have worked years to give you these amazing tips to complete your Ph.D. successfully. Having put a lot of efforts means to make your Ph.D. journey easier. Thank you for visiting my Ph.D. blog.

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