Skip to main content

PGR JourneysResearchSocial Sciences

From day one to your initial review – four top tips for a successful start to the PhD!

19 March 2024

By Luret Lar, School of Social Sciences

Following the excitement and relief of finishing my Masters in Social Sciences Research Methods (SSRM) in Social Policy, I anticipated a long break! However, I ended up progressing to the PhD approximately a month after submitting my Masters dissertation.

Amid uncertainties, but with optimism and passion about my research, I have the following four key learnings to share from the first few months of my PhD:

1) Avoid procrastination
Try to do as much as possible at the right time. Leaving important work meant to be completed today until tomorrow is a dicey alternative, especially when the inertia and fear of getting started tends to grip you. Time really does fly by! The period between starting in October and my December 11th submission sped by. It is also pertinent not to underestimate the paperwork, number of documents for submission, time for supervisory review and the upcoming Christmas break. Therefore, dedicated time to reading and writing is compulsory.

2) Lead the research but utilise supervisor experience
In taking ownership of your research, realise that supervisors are always there to support you. I wanted to bite off more than I could chew, but thankfully the experience and expertise of my supervisors provided suggestions and questions that kept me thinking. How was I to develop an intellectual project at such a short period, was my recurrent theme question for weeks on end. However, where I was reluctant and had limited confidence to take bold decisions, supervisors patiently guided me from an ambitious to a narrower and more feasible research plan that is achievable within the PhD timescale. Indeed, the invaluable support of supervisors is a priceless gift.

3) Utilise available support early
The Doctoral Academy is a very rich resource to engage with at this period. I recall my online Starting Out session and the mixed feelings that I had about starting. However, the breakout sessions calmed me down, knowing that my thoughts and ideas were like my peers. We all seemed to have the same anxieties and uncertainties. As I searched for training sessions and events to sign up for, some looked too early, but I am glad that I joined them because it not only helped me to populate my training needs analysis template but also built and strengthened my confidence and capacity, especially in writing. Furthermore, I met other PhD students, learnt about their research, networked, and got ideas for progressing my work through these interactions.

4) It is doable, so just do it!
Through the challenges, I knew I had to fulfil a satisfactory initial review. At the beginning it seemed daunting, isolating, and impossible. However, with perseverance and the outlined lived experience, I am glad that I did not give up and I did it. Therefore, my compass might be different from yours, but I hope that you learnt a thing or two from my experience to know that you can also do this!