PhD study is all about intellectual curiosity, exciting research and – practical considerations…? That’s right; your groundbreaking doctoral research comes with some very real practicalities that need to be worked out before you can make the most of your further study.
Guilherme Celestino, King’s College PhD candidate (Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies) shares his tips for thriving as a PhD student.
Doing a PhD is one of the most difficult tasks you will go through in your life. The lack of funding, the pressure to publish, the dangers of procrastination and the lack of regular working hours are some of the challenges that a PhD student will face during the three (or more) years of doctoral study.
But it is also one of the most amazing times of your life, when you can be fully devoted to something you are passionate about and share your thoughts with amazing people from all over the world. Here are some tips that you can follow to mitigate the struggles of doing a PhD and make the most of these wonderful years:
Yes, money is the big issue, and now more than 40% of PhDs are self-funded, while the rest are not paid well enough to make ends meet, so you will probably need to work at something else during your degree. However, you can see working not only as an obligation but also a very good opportunity to take some distance from the research, refresh the mind and interact with other people. It is also a good way to develop transferable skills that will be central in your career. Although balancing work hours and study can be challenging, try to apply for jobs that will not ask you to bring work home and choose a limit of days a week to work, allowing some free time to work on your research (remember, finishing the PhD is the objective here). You can always work or study during weekends, but remember to take at least one day of rest.
Teaching is an important aspect of PhD and in most universities it is possible to work as GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistant) and facilitate seminars. It is good practice; an opportunity to get in contact with students; and to develop presentations and interpersonal skills (and also earn some money). However, try to avoid taking too many classes, because you also need to prepare, which can take a lot of time. Marking is also time consuming, but it is a very good exercise to understand how students think and if they are following the classes. Teaching in general can be a very rewarding experience, and even mandatory depending on what you want to do after you finish your PhD.
That is the core objective of a PhD, it shows the academic world that you can do an original piece of research that will contribute to your field of study. To keep discipline try to divide your day in tasks according to the moment of the day you are more productive. If you work better in the morning, enjoy this time to read and write, and leave the afternoon to respond to email and apply for grants and conferences, and vice-versa, it is always easier when you follow a daily routine. It is also very important to publish your work, remember to discuss this possibility with your supervisor.
When working alone, sometimes in a library, other times at home, it is easy to forget to connect with people – and academics are famous for being hermits. Most of the people in your department will not know anything about your subject, but this is a good exercise, if you can explain your research to them it shows you are on the right path. Even better, try to avoid talking about your research when having regular lunches with them, discuss something else, take the time to relax and network with these people and you might find out you have a lot in common and will certainly develop your communication skills. It will help you when you go to conferences to start a conversation with peers that are studying the same subject as you and especially to network with academics from other universities, a very important step if you want to be considered after finishing your PhD.
The King’s Careers take: As Guilherme says, PhD study is intense, so before you begin, make sure you’ve straightened out your practicalities for the next few years. We’ve got a lot of information about deciding whether or not to do a PhD, applying for programmes, and getting funding. Find it all on our Further Study Keats pages.
If you’re a current PhD student at King’s, you can access PhD-specific careers guidance appointments – these are an hour long and you can book them up to two weeks in advance via King’s CareerConnect.