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Words of wisdom for new postgraduate researchers: Part two

2 October 2019

Are you just starting out on your PhD? It’s likely to be an exciting but also daunting time for you. Rest assured that nerves are totally normal! In this mini blog series, Kaisa Pankakoski, a postgraduate researcher at the School of Welsh, shares her top tips for a smoother research journey.

Read part one here!

Completing a PhD is a huge learning curve. I asked other research students – full-timers, part-timers, recent graduates, home and international students, distance learners, parents, mature students, the younger generation – what they wish they’d known when they first started. I’m really pleased to be able to share their wisdom here, and I hope some of these great tips will help you along the way!

In this second part of the series, I’ve included some tips that will be particularly useful for those who are already part-way through their PhD as well as those just starting out.

  1. Get involved in the social side of the Doctoral Academy. Even if research work can be a solitary experience, the PhD doesn’t have to be. The Doctoral Academy offers interdisciplinary activities and events as well as a friendly community for researchers.

  2. Not all days are going to be productive. Slumps are part of the process. Often you are doing intellectual thinking without realising. Work is not measured by time sat in the office.

  3. Take part in organising a conference or an event. I am now organising my second multilingualism conference, with two other PhD students from the School of Modern Languages.

  4. Leave plenty of time for formatting and organising your reference manager as you write.

  5. Find your tribe. This could be colleagues in your department, the University or a social media group. A support network of other researchers who understand you will be invaluable
Find your tribe

6. Things may take more time than you expect. Add several weeks onto any big deadlines to manage setbacks and wrong turns.

7. Writing a PhD is not meant to be easy. Don’t underestimate the effort you will have to make. It takes 3+ years for a reason!

8. Tell people about your research, get involved in public engagement, create impact, or set up a blog. This will help you to share your expertise, raise your profile and look for future opportunities.

9. Don’t compare yourself or your research project to others. Every project is a unique piece of original research and every researcher has different resources. Be kind to yourself.

10. Try to find the right work-life balance and treat your PhD like a job. Take time off in the evenings and weekends. Take your annual leave and go on proper holidays occasionally. You need this time off to regain intellectual energy and avoid burn-out. Learn to say no to some things (I have yet to master this myself!)

Find the right work-life balance

11. Set clear research questions and focus on those. Don’t go off on tangents.

12. Attend conferences, seminars or research groups to present your work. This is an important way to get ideas, feedback and network outside of supervisory meetings. Student-led conferences Breaking Boundaries and Speaking of Science are organised by the Doctoral Academy, as well as the Three Minute Thesis. There are also less formal ways of presenting your work such as PUBlic Uni and Pint of Science.

13. Keep at it! The PhD is all about perseverance.

14. Learn a language. Languages for All and Welsh for All provide courses for Cardiff University staff and students for free.

15. Find your own study style. Do you work better at night or early in the morning? Do you prefer silence or sitting in coffee shops to concentrate?

Find your own study style

16. Back up your work! Have updated copies in multiple places.

17. Attend writing retreats, boot camps or groups regularly to set aside some dedicated time just for writing.

18. Consider publishing, especially if you are thinking of having a career in academia. On the flip side, it’s also important to not let publishing get in the way of completing on time!

19. Carry a notebook and take notes at meetings, seminars, during conversations, or even before bed.

20. And finally, enjoy the ride! Remind yourself why you are doing research.

Enjoy the ride!

Are you on Twitter? Let me know what you think of these tips! @Kaisapan