The 10 Best Tips for Successful PhD Students

Yelena Skosyrskih

Doctoral programs are challenging, demanding, and require a lot of time and effort. They also offer the opportunity to take your education to the next level. If you’re thinking about applying for a PhD program or you’ve recently been accepted into one, check out these 10 tips for successful PhD students. We all know that getting accepted into a doctoral program is no small feat — it requires an excellent academic record, relevant experience and potential as an independent researcher. However, once you’ve been admitted to a program, things get significantly more difficult. The responsibilities of having a doctorate degree are more than just increased prestige; they involve long hours of research, writing dissertations and presenting original ideas in front of test audiences. Working towards a Doctor of Philosophy (or other similar doctorate degrees) requires determination and willingness to sacrifice personal time for educational ones. Here are some helpful tips to bear in mind before and during your studies:

Be fully committed to your field of research

If you’re entering a doctoral program, you should have a clear idea of what your dissertation will focus on. Before committing to a doctoral program, make sure you have a strong idea of what you want to research and why. Your PhD dissertation is likely to be the most significant piece of academic work you will ever produce. It’s important that you invest a significant amount of time and energy into making sure it’s on a topic that is both challenging and inspiring to you.

Organize your time and be realistic about requirements

PhD students don’t get summers off. While they are usually expected to produce several chapters of their dissertation by the end of their program, they also have to take comprehensive exams, attend conferences, give lectures and participate in other program-related events. Depending on the university, doctoral programs usually last between two and five years. While two years might be enough time to finish a dissertation on a less complex topic, five years might be a reasonable amount of time for a dissertation on a more complicated topic. Regardless of which time frame you’re given, be sure to organize your time fully and realistically. If you end up needing more time to finish, don’t be afraid to discuss this with your advisor.

Set up a study group or join an academic club

If you’ve ever taken a college or university class, you know that classes can be stimulating, but also incredibly dull. You might be tempted to doze off during your first couple of classes, but this is not the best way to begin your doctoral program. Instead, join an academic club or set up a study group with fellow doctoral students — this will keep you motivated and engaged in your program. To make the most of your study group, set clear objectives and goals for meeting with your fellow students.

Don’t neglect the importance of English and other languages

Your dissertation is likely to be in English, and it’s likely to be evaluated by academics and researchers who are not native speakers of your language. If you’re studying at a university in a non-English-speaking country, this could be even more true. To make sure your dissertation fully represents your ideas and thoughts, make sure to get it translated into English by a native speaker. If your dissertation is in another language, you will likely have to have it translated into English for your committee members.

Take care of yourself and don’t forget to breathe

When you’re a doctoral student, it’s easy to get caught up in the research and forget to take care of yourself. This is especially true if you’re having a hard time coming up with new ideas or if your dissertation is particularly challenging. To ensure you’re not burning out and are able to finish your doctoral program, remember to take care of yourself. Eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise regularly.

Find a mentor who can guide you through the process

If your university has professors who have recently completed their doctoral programs, you should ask them to be your mentor. From choosing your committee members to the actual writing process, your mentor can help you navigate this process. Your mentor might also be able to help you find funding for your doctoral program.

Network, network, network!

Be sure to engage with your fellow students and professors. Ask them questions and get to know them. If you’re attending conferences, look up other PhD students who are in a similar field. You might make some great connections.

Celebrate your successes along the way

Finally, celebrate your successes along the way. If you’re in a doctoral program, it’s likely that you’ve spent a significant amount of time researching, attending classes, and writing your dissertation. It’s important to celebrate your successes along the way to keep your energy high and motivation strong.

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