Advice to a new PhD student 3.0

My friends @benteka and @velkova have just begun their PhD studies so I decided to revamp an old text. Warning: Following advice is like entering into Phd studies. You do it at your own risk.

One: “You changed man!” – Axel Foley. Write down a list of things you want to achieve. Include ideas, expectations, dreams and hopes. Put the list into an envelope and do not open until you are halfway or two-thirds through your Phd period. Most probably you will be cynical and jaded and your advice will sound silly. Take the idealist with you.

Two: “Save it for your blog Howard.” – Leonard Hofstadter. If you have the inclination to blog – then do so. There are loads of arguments for (here) and against (here) academic blogging. Some supervisors see it as a waste of time & energy. Sure focus is good but some reasons against: You will hate your PhD project when you realize that you have no time to explore other cool stuff – blogging is a way to explore that stuff. Second, getting along in academia is all about ranking and impact. Blogging will not make you famous but it will help you push your views across. Finally, any activity which involves the formulation and presentation of ideas is an important activity for a Phd.

Three: “Follow that ostrich!” – Mr Fix. Leave the department. Go international if possible. Departments are microcosms of ideas, beliefs and practices. Reading others is good. Meeting them is better.

Four: “Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down.” – Jimmy Durante. Be helpful and friendly to your colleagues. I have NEVER understood the competitive side of some PhD students who attempt to suppress others. I will never understand the reason why certain people with PhD’s tend to forget the reality of the situation and bully PhD students. Picking on people who cannot fight back does not mean you are powerful. It means you are a weak human being.

Five: “Humour is also a way of saying something serious.” – T S Eliot. Pick a cartoon. For me the best are XKCD & Piled Higher and Deeper. You will be surprised where inspiration comes from.

Six: “Trust me, Cardiff is the safest place in the world.” – Dr Who. Don’t believe anything anyone tells you about the Phd. It is an experience. You make the experience.

Seven: “Recheck everything, Captain, question everything.” – Vulcan Ambassador Soval. Conducting research means questioning everything. Its like a return to childhood with the endless naive questioning of accepted values.

Eight: “Is it rude to Twitter during sex? To go “omg, omg, wtf, zzz”? Is that rude?” – Robin Williams. Twitter is a brilliant tool. Use it wisely.

Nine: “Who woulda guessed reading and writing would pay off.” – Homer. From the day you begin your PhD work. Write! Reading is important but don’t get stuck there. Don’t wait until you have read “everything” or the next important book before starting. If you do not have text you cannot re-write.

Ten: “Have fun, just don’t have amnesia.” – Samantha. If you do not enjoy what you do your text will reflect this. If your text reflects this then your thesis will not be interesting for the reader. If you do not enjoy what you do how are you ever going to find the energy to read all the texts, discuss them with others, write all your texts and beg others to discuss them with you?

Eleven: Expect procrastination, plan for it and embrace positive procrastination.

Twelve: Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Academia

Recommended reading:

You know you’re a Phd student when…

The dangers and joys of Academic Language

Butterworth I did a PhD and did NOT go mad

Matt Might’s The illustrated guide to a PhD

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