five things successful PhD students do

Five Things Successful PhD Students Do

A PhD is certainly not easy. Every doctorate student has their share of struggles, whether it’s staying motivated or being productive. So how do you ensure you set yourself up for success from the start?

Here are five things all high achieving students do to ensure they don’t simply survive, but thrive, in their PhD:

#1: Write often and write early

Write as often as possible, even if you don’t have a journal entry on the horizon. Start writing as soon as you can in your PhD career, and write regularly. Some people write daily while other candidates may write only once a week. But the point is to consistently track your progress: what you did, how you did it, and the obstacles you come across.

Writing early will encourage you to grow and maintain your writing skills for when the time comes to write a full-blown paper. By writing often, you will help gather content that you can reuse when you need to write abstracts, papers or proposals.

#2: Read lots of papers

At the beginning of your graduate career, you inevitably have to read lots of papers. The goal is to have a solid understanding of your research field. You may have heard this being called “state of the art.”

Once you know the state of the art in your field, you will understand where your PhD fits in. How are you going to add to the field and then articulate the scope of your own research?  It also gives you a roadmap to avoid duplicating existing research and reinventing the wheel. Once you have done most of the reading, you will need to keep track of new developments in your field by reading new papers and speaking to others about what research is underway. 

#3: Embrace the Pomodoro

Another trait of successful PhD candidates is one that is shared by software developers. Some people call this agile development, others talk about fast prototyping, short sprints, or ‘ship it fast and get feedback’.

Have you ever worked on something until you felt it was perfect, only to find out that the other person disagreed? That waste of time is what you want to avoid. The idea here is to work very fast to produce something that is just good enough, show it, get feedback and improve it in another sprint. And iterate on and on. One smart time management technique based on the idea of working in sprints is called the Pomodoro Technique, which is to work 25 minutes on with a 5 minute break afterwards.

#4: Focus on small signs of progress

One common mistake is to bind your academic satisfaction to important milestones like publishing a paper in a high-impact journal. Nope! These things take a long—and more importantly uncertain – amount of time.

So you should start focusing on smaller milestones. Instead of asking yourself if you are there yet, ask if you are closer than you were last week, last month, or last year.

#5: Don’t cut corners

So far we’ve focused on productivity study tips for the PhD student. These allow you to skip unnecessary tasks and focus on what really matters for your PhD. But there is one area where you cannot find shortcuts: your reputation.

During your PhD, you may be tempted to do things that seem like a benefit in the short term but that could harm your reputation in the long term. These shortcuts involve your credibility, your thoroughness and your accountability.

That’s why Your PhD Supervisor is here to help, not just on how to write your paper or tackle your research, but on larger issues like improving your academic career and safeguarding your reputation. We’re here to give you genuine advice because we’ve been there too!

Photo: COD Newsroom

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