A doctorate degree (PhD) is one of the hardest projects are person can undertake. Not only does a PhD degree require an immense amount of analytic insight and creativity, but it also demands steadfast hard work, a capacity to manage your own time and stay motivated, and the ability to make do with often limited finances. Here are 7 key tips to help you make the most out of your doctorate degree, and most importantly of all, submit on schedule.
- Treat your doctorate degree like a job – Although one of the attractions of a PhD is the flexibility it gives you regarding when and how you do your work, this also makes it very easy to waste time and get distracted. The solution is to treat it like a job; if possible, turn up at 9am, leave at 5pm – if you need to do lab work at unusual hours, keep a log book of how long you’ve worked, and stick to it.
- Schedule annual leave – Related to 1. above, all jobs allow for annual leave – your doctorate degree should be no different. Notify your supervisor and research group in advance, and then take the time to switch off and relax.
- Choose your working environment wisely – Each of us has different preferences and requirements for working effectively. Some people prefer the buzz of a noisy café, others demand peace and quiet. Find out what your needs are, and act accordingly. Don’t work where you sleep or relax though; this will make it more likely you’ll get distracted.
- Set regular targets – A doctorate degree can seem at the beginning like a huge mountain to climb. Breaking your research down into smaller blocks, can make it feel much more manageable.
- Don’t be a prisoner of your research – Although your project is your priority as a PhD student, spending three years or more in an environment as rich and vibrant as a university is an outstanding opportunity for professional development in all respects. Most universities provide a host of courses, networking events, workshops and training sessions to boost the employability of their students. Check out which ones are relevant, and book into a few when you have some spare time.
- Take charge… – Don’t expect your doctorate degree to be like an undergraduate degree or a taught masters. Although your department and supervisor will help you as far as possible, ultimately, your thesis is your responsibility.
- … but don’t be afraid to ask for help – A PhD is challenging, and nobody expects you to know or manage everything all by yourself. It may be your responsibility, but there is vast amount of resources available to help you make the very best of your research.
Postscript: After your doctorate degree
A PhD is, first and foremost, a way of training the academics of the future. But the expertise you gain from a doctorate makes you tremendously employable in a wide range of specialist roles – from research and development in industry, to international affairs. Therefore, rather than keep your focus narrowly focussed upon postdoctoral study, it’s well worth using the time you’ll have available between submitting your dissertation, and your viva voce exam, to explore all the different career options that your area of study relates to. This is the perfect time to do internships.