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 by Matt Lawson
, posted on 2 Oct '18

PhD Students - 10 Simple Pieces of Advice

Are you just starting out on your PhD journey, or preparing for one? Fear not! There's plenty of support and guidance out there, including these great tips recently tweeted by Dr Matt Lawson of Oxford Brookes University. We liked them so much we asked Matt if we could share them here and he kindly agreed - thanks Matt!

I'm seeing lots of PhD students starting out on their journey right now, as well as plenty in the middle, and some towards the end. So I thought I'd put together a few thoughts about the process:

#1 Look after yourselves

The most important one right at the start. You are doing a PhD, but it shouldn't define who you are. I made the mistake of becoming consumed by it, and it took its toll on my health. Be engaged and committed, but remember to live your life too.

#2 Forge a good relationship with your supervisors, early on

Make sure you know what they expect from you, and what you should expect from them. Will your meetings be weekly/monthly? Will they read your work regularly? Agree on the working relationship early on.

#3 Get some teaching experience if you can

I was lucky enough to be on a Graduate Teaching Assistantship, so I taught extensively, but if you're self-funded, ask to take some seminars or a module. It adds so much to an academic CV having some experience in the classroom.

#4 Make sure you present at conferences, even if it's just one

I went slightly mad and presented at about 20 during my PhD, which probably contributed towards point #1 above, but they are a wonderful opportunity to network and get feedback on your early research.

The original tweet that began Matt's thread.

#5 Apply for small research grants, even if it's "only" travel costs

With the conferences mentioned above, some of them were in far-reaching places. By applying for small grants of £200-300, not only did it help me financially, but looks good on your CV receiving funding.

#6 Publish

I only came out of my PhD with one book chapter, which I was very proud of, but perhaps I could have done more. However, I keep referring back to point 1. I'd argue it's more important to finish your PhD healthily than put undue stress on publishing too.

#7 Have a Plan B to an academic career

Again - thus far - I've been lucky enough to stay in academia, but many don't. I think universities could be far more honest to new PhD students about their career prospects in academia. Make sure it's not your only plan. Have a few ideas.

#8 Exercise and eat healthily

Sometimes, when I felt crushed by pressure, I went for a 20-30 minute brisk walk around campus. Hearing the birds sing, or watching the sun set, somehow put things back into perspective. Can't say I ate healthily - but I do recommend it for others!

#9 Take breaks

Again, this helps with point #1 above. You will be more productive if you take a week off and get back to it, than working 15 hour days every day. At Christmas especially, have time off. Families and friends need you, and you need them during a PhD.

#10 Appreciate how far you've come

There's so much talk about PhDs losing value, but don't pay any attention to that. I was extremely proud on day 1 of my PhD for even being there, and so should you be. It's a life-changing experience. Embrace it and enjoy it. Good luck!

Dr Matt Lawson is Lecturer in Music and acting Subject Coordinator for Undergraduate Music at Oxford Brookes University. A film and television musicologist, he completed his PhD at Edge Hill University in 2017, with a thesis focussing on the music used in German depictions of the Holocaust on screen. He is also co-author of the recently published book, 100 Greatest Film Scores (Rowman and Littlefield: August 2018). You can follow him on Twitter (@DrMattWLawson) or check out his personal website.

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Overcoming your PhD fears

It's natural to be nervous before you start a PhD, but the trick is to manage - and overcome! - those fears. Read Gaia's advice.

The first steps into a PhD

So, whats it actually like to start a PhD? Sofia recently described her own experiences as 'like being a toddler again'.

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