It might seem like a cliché, but the reality is that isn’t really a typical day for a PhD student. Your daily routine will depend on several different factors, from your research area and the stage of your PhD to what you’ve agreed with your supervisor and your own learning style. We’ve covered the main aspects that will affect how you spend your PhD below.
If you’re doing a PhD in the Arts and Humanities, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that you’ll spend a fair chunk of your time reading texts or in the library. This is where the bulk of your research will be done, although depending on the nature of your topic you may visit special collections and archives to view rare books and papers elsewhere.
In the Social Sciences, you’re also likely to spend plenty of time reading. However, you might also find yourself conducting research via surveys or interviews, as well as handling large amounts of data.
STEM PhDs usually involve lots of time in the laboratory, performing experiments and testing out hypotheses. You’ll probably also help supervise undergraduate and Masters students while they conduct work in the laboratory, making sure they’re using the right techniques.
Your learning style will also have an effect on your daily routine as a PhD student. The independence afforded by a PhD means that you’ll have plenty of freedom to choose your own ‘working’ hours – as well as where they take place.
Some people value the regularity of a 9-5 schedule, while others may find that they’re more productive early in the morning or later in the evening (or a mixture of all three!). Similarly, you may have the freedom to choose where you want to study – whether that’s at home, in the library, a local café or a shared workspace with other PhD students.
The stage of your PhD
How far you are into your PhD is another big factor in your daily routine. Your first year will largely involve you getting to grips with your research area, familiarising yourself with the literature and beginning to lay the groundwork for what will become your PhD thesis.
Second year will see you taking on extra responsibilities, such as teaching or laboratory supervision, as well as undertaking the bulk of your research.
Your third and fourth years will usually be dedicating to writing up your research and producing your thesis, culminating in your PhD viva. This is typically the busiest – and most important! – period of a PhD.
Meetings with your PhD supervisor will take place on a regular basis and are an excellent opportunity to provide updates, ask for advice and get their opinion on drafts. The frequency of these meeting will largely be up to you and your supervisor to agree on, but you can expect them to form an important part of your routine as and when they happen.