What have I learnt from the first few weeks of my PhD?

The first 6 weeks of my PhD has consisted of a lot of reading, meetings, commuting, and getting to grips with an entirely new discipline. It’s been exciting and challenging, but I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learnt about how to improve my efficiency:

To write my own dictionary/abbreviation book

It has dinosaurs on so naturally it’s made it more of a treat when I have to write definitions out (sometimes for words I’m sure I should’ve already known?!). I think this is particularly useful for me as I’ve changed discipline for my PhD; I’m having to learn a lot of politics when before it was all about biology.

Not to burn myself out

PhD research is very independent which has many benefits but it can become difficult to know how much work you should be completing. I typically prefer to do too much than too little, but I did over-exert myself in the first few weeks and ended up exhausted (which isn’t going to be productive in the long term!). I’ve now decided to stick to a stricter routine which I’m hoping will help me to manage my time.

To keep a record of the papers I’ve read – and date them!


I think it’s important to record when you last read papers so that you can monitor your progress. It really helps to see that you may have been more productive than you thought at the end of each day!

To attend workshops/seminars NOW

I went to a research impacts workshop feeling slightly nervous as I worried I’d be the only first year attending. I was wrong, and it was really useful to think about the future even at this early stage, so I’m glad I decided to go in the end. I’m also attending various seminars to get a broader understanding of my subject area; this is of particular importance to me as I have changed discipline from biological sciences to rural political science.

To be more open-minded 

This is something I’m admittedly still getting to grips with. As someone changing discipline, I’m learning about methods which I haven’t come across before; many of which I’ve felt skeptical about in the past. I’m very much a quantitative minded biologist at the moment, so moving into the realms of using some qualitative methods too has been tricky, but I think as I continue reading and understanding how they can be applied I’m hoping I will fully understand the benefits of being able to delve deeper than you can with quantitative methods.

To do extra-curricular activities

It isn’t healthy to work 24/7, so I’ve been trying to make the most of my time in Exeter by going to various events. The theatre here is amazing, offering £5 student stand-by tickets, so catching a show some evenings is a real treat. It’s also important to get to know fellow PhD students so a few trips to the local pubs haven’t gone amiss.

To try to have more patience with undergraduates…

This sounds really mean but they are everywhere. Buying lunch on campus is so traumatic that I’ve had to improve at remembering packed lunches (which is cheaper/uses less packaging anyway so it’s a good thing really!). It’s ridiculous that I feel so isolated from them seeing as I was an undergraduate just 3 years ago,  but I can’t help but feel relief when I can retreat back to the solitude of my quiet office space!

Anyway, that’s all folks! If anyone has any other tips for first year PhD researchers, I’d love to hear them.

I’ve also previously written about how I prepared for the start of my PhD and how I ended up starting a PhD in the first place if anyone would like to have a peruse!

Finally, if anyone has any suggestions for future PhD related blog posts, let me know; I’m running out of ideas! 

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