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Posted on 4 Jan '17

5 Simple Ways to Get More from a PhD, Right Now

A PhD is a research degree, but there’s more to a PhD than research.

Most students have the chance to teach or demonstrate, to organise or present at conferences, to write and publish professionally or to take part in public engagement activities at some point during their degrees.

This is a good thing, because, whatever career you choose to follow, you can guarantee it won’t just involve doing research.

But traditional development opportunities such as teaching and publication can be time-consuming and hard to guarantee. They also have a habit of turning up just as you’re incredibly busy with your thesis.

So wouldn’t it be great if there were some more flexible methods to get more out of your time on a PhD and boost your CV? Well, actually, there are!

Here are five ways in which you can start developing yourself as a PhD student and enhancing your skills and CV, right away:

#1 Take part in some student mentoring

Most PhD students get the chance to do some teaching. This experience is vital if you’re looking for an academic job, but it also demonstrates other skills such as leadership and presentation.

Unfortunately, teaching opportunities don’t occur right away – and they can’t always be guaranteed.

One alternative can be to take part in mentoring schemes for taught students.

These won’t usually require you to read work in progress or offer detailed advice (that is the job of the student’s academic supervisor, after all!). Instead you’ll probably meet for a coffee and a chat once or twice and perhaps be available to answer some simple queries via email.

Mentoring can be particularly worthwhile for new PhD students. It might not have been that long ago that you were starting a Masters dissertation, but advising a current student will help you realise how much you’ve already learned since then. You’ll also get some early experience of what it’s like providing academic advice and guidance, without the rigours of a full semester’s teaching and assessment.

If your department already runs a mentoring scheme, getting involved with it should be simple. If such a scheme isn’t in place at your university, why not suggest one? Helping out with a mentoring programme is going to look good on your CV. Being involved in setting one up is going to look even better!

#2 Present at a workshop or seminar

Participating in academic conferences is a key development process for PhD students. This is where you’ll forge a relationship with the academic community in your subject area. Needless to say, presentation and professional networking are also vital skills in other careers.

However, whilst conferences themselves tend to occur fairly regularly, they can be difficult (or expensive) to attend.

Going from attending to presenting at a conference can also be a little intimidating. It’s something every PhD student does (and you’ll be just as good as everyone else when you do!) but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to ease yourself into it.

A great way to do that is to get involved with internal workshops and student presentations at your university.

These will allow you to gain experience describing, explaining and taking questions on your work in an environment that’s guaranteed to be friendly and constructive – and you won’t need to budget for travel and accommodation!

If workshops already run in your department, you should be able to go along and sign up. If they don’t, why not get together with some other postgraduates and start one? Then you can add organisational experience to your CV too. Speaking of which. . .

#3 Volunteer to help with conferences at your university

Academics don’t just present at conferences: they also organise them (which is handy really, because otherwise there wouldn’t be any events to present at).

Putting on an academic event is a big job, requiring lots of advance planning, logistical management and on the day organisation. All of which means it’s an excellent skill to have on your CV, whatever you end up doing after your PhD.

Most university departments will seek involvement from PhD students when putting on events and you should definitely consider volunteering if the opportunity arises. Some of the jobs you’ll be asked to do may not be that glamorous, but all offer useful experience of conference organisation.

Eventually, you may get the chance to play a bigger part in events – perhaps by chairing a panel session related to your interests and expertise.

Some departments also run specific postgraduate conferences. These may be entirely internal, or invite involvement from students at nearby universities.

It’s definitely worth getting involved with internal events as you’ll usually be able to play a much bigger role in the planning and decision making process.

Again, if your department doesn’t organise a postgraduate conference, why not suggest one?

#4 Do some blogging

Publishing your research findings is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a PhD student. This is when you confirm that you are, as they say, ‘making an original contribution to knowledge’ by. . . making an original contribution to knowledge. And publishing it.

That said, publishing successfully and effectively is a time-consuming process for any academic and may be particularly demanding for PhD students who are unfamiliar with the systems of academic peer-review, revision and resubmission.

One way to gain some of the benefits of ‘publishing’ your work without detracting too much from the actual research process is to blog alongside your PhD.

You don’t need to write blog posts that are as detailed and substantial as draft parts of your thesis (in fact, you really shouldn’t).

Instead your blog can record key ideas and milestones, report on conference experiences and perhaps offer a space for ideas that aren’t part of your full thesis.

Done correctly, blogging can be a great networking tool, offering a way for other scholars to keep in touch with you and your work. Regularly reflecting on your PhD can also help you get through the process by maintaining a record of how far you’ve come and the path you’ve taken.

There are plenty of simple platforms available for independent blogging, including popular options such as Wordpress and Blogger. Your university, or department, may also organise its own postgraduate blog.

And, of course, there’s this blog right here. We’re always interested in hearing from students with experiences to share and advice to offer their peers. Feel free to get in touch with our editor, Mark via email or Twitter.

#5 Try academic reviewing

What if we told you there was a way of getting ‘published’, in academic journals, that was readily available to postgraduate research students? What if we also told you that the editors of those journals (and websites) were often crying out for PhD students to undertake this kind of publication?

Well, you’d probably be slightly more impressed if we hadn’t given the game away in the title, above.

In all seriousness though, review work is definitely worth taking on as a postgraduate and you’ll probably find that there’s plenty available.

Reviewing is slightly more common in the Arts and Humanities, where publication tends to take the form of substantial research monographs (single-authored, single-volume publications) that lend themselves well to summary and evaluation.

There may still be opportunities for PhD students in other subject areas though – perhaps by evaluating datasets or conferences in addition to more conventional publications.

Reviewing for publication isn’t just a way to enhance your CV, either. If planned well it can also complement your PhD research (particularly your own literature review) and encourage you to stay abreast of new research and scholarship in your field.

Most journals or websites will provide information for prospective reviewers. If not, try contacting an editor with a brief synopsis of your research area and asking if they have any review work available. You could even suggest an item for review yourself.




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Last Updated: 04 January 2017