Advices to a first-year PhD student

Advices to a first-year PhD student

These are just some thoughts on students who are about or have just started their PhD. I'm not sure how helpful these thoughts can be, but I think it's always useful having somebody who has gone through the same/similar path sharing his experience.

Supervisor

The first obvious advice is, of course, to be close to your supervisor and always listen carefully to his comments/feedback/advice. Trust his advice, he's much more experienced than you. At the same time, however, try to get more and more dependant, little by little. Your aim should be that after some time, you should be going to your supervisor with suggestions of what to do in the next stage of your research. You don't want to research second, or even worse, third year, and still need your supervisor to tell you what to do. Your supervisor is there to support you, and give you feedback on your research. He's not there to do the work for you. Put this in your mind! You need to be an independant and mature researcher. At the end of the day, it's your PhD, not his.

Get published!

Publications are of course vital if you are interested following an academic career, so try to start publishing your work as early as possible. Especially in the Computer Science field, we have the opportunities to publish our work in international conferences that follow a peer-review process, and thus the papers are "properly" citable. This is a huge advantage in our field, because in many other areas conferences are a place for networkin, presenting your work and getting feedback on it, but your paper is not considered to have been published. Computer Science is still one of the few remaining fields that gives us the opportunity to have published works at an early stage in our career, and through a process that does not take as long time as a journal review process usually takes. After you've spent some time on research and you have produced some results, consider writing a paper and publishing it. Ask your supervisor to advise you on relevant conferences in your research area. Writing a paper can be challenging, especially if you are doing it for the first time, but it is a very rewarding process and once it's accepted, it also gives you a great feeling of accomplishment and success. And believe me, this is extremely important during you PhD years, because you can see that your research is getting somewhere, and that other people also appreciate it. Plus you get to hear other people's feedback on your work. This is also important, because in this way you can improve your work. Besides, if somebody has a question/remark/disagreement on a part of your paper, this means that it is quite likely that other people in the future might have a similar problem, too. So through the review process you also have the chance to improve your work, and more importantly be more prepared in the future if the same issue arises. The same kind of questions might arise a few years later in your viva, so why not having tackled them early in your PhD path?!

When it gets hard to keep going

Another thing that you should keep in mind is that it is possible that at some point during your PhD you'll get bored, fed up with working on the same topic for so long, or get stuck and feel like your research is going nowhere. I just want to tell you that this is normal. If you are stuck, try talking to your supervisor first; try also talking to other fellow-Phd-students. About feeling tired doing the same work, it makes sense; you've been working on the same project for so long. And many times you might not see any valuable results for a long time. Just know that sooner or later this period will be over. It happens to many students. Just be patient and keep working. Also try talking to other PhD students. You'll realise that many of them are or have been in a similar stage with yours! Trust me, you'll be surprised on how many other students feel like you! It's important to remember that you are not alone, and what you are going through many people are going through it, as well. But most importantly, these people overcome this stage sooner or later. Remember this! But if by any chance you feel the feeling is too overwhelming, why not consider professional councelling services-most likely your university offers this type of support for free.

Make your CV stand out

Three years are a lot of time for a PhD. Try to combine this time with other valuable experiences. At the end of the day, after you get your PhD and start applying for jobs, you will be competing against other PhD-holders, too. So why do you think you're the special one and you should get the job? Well, it's all about what else you have done and put in your CV. As I said earlier, try to publish as early as possible! Also, try to do some teaching or get some relevant work experience, if possible. Some universities also offer the experience of exchange PhD programs. Of course ask your supervisor's opinion first regarding the program in question. But I believe it's a great opportunity to visit other research labs/offices of other universities, meet and work with new people, and form collaborations. These things will look great on your CV.

29/10/2011