PhD studies are the highest level of education, and the road can be frustrating and exhausting at times, but the final result (your dissertation) is at the same time a major achievement in life, and a very rewarding event. Whenever you feel like you keep on working on the same problem, with no way out, remember that blocks and friction are simply part of the creative process that is research. When you feel like your world is limited to your lab, your bed and the library – know that there is no shame in taking a break and refueling yourself.
I’d like to share with you 12 tips for making it through the PhD, in a time-efficient way:
- Don’t work too hard
It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize – and in this context I’d like to remind you of your sole purpose of your PhD: Finding a way to answer your research question, in a novel way, showing that you are an independent researcher.
Everybody has loose ends, but if they are only remotely related to your research question, cut them out and leave them for later
- Know when you need to do some extra effort
When major deadlines collide, go into bunker-mode. Don’t stay in that mode for too long, but know when you need to put in that extra effort to push things through. It’s just a temporary thing, never stay bunkered or alone for too long.
- Take enough breaks during the days
Don’t skip your lunch break. Browsing the internet does not count as a break. Get some fresh air, talk to a colleague or go and grab a coffee with a friend.
- Make friend with other PhD students
Make friends with your fellow PhD students, and have fun together. Contribute the “success” of your PhD by and large to being in a great research group.
- Don’t forget the bigger scope
When you get frustrated with a detail, remember the bigger scope, and if you’re a little on the idealistic side, remember what the Greater Good of your work is: are you making sure the roads/bridges are safe, or protecting baby hearts, or improving water purification? Connect to that feeling of pride and importance on being able to contribute to the greater problems of society
- Work up a sweat
You’ll need to get your body tired too to be able to get a good rest at night. Try to move your body for at least 15 – 20 minutes a day; and try to find time for 3 to 4 longer workouts per week
- Pick up a hobby
Get a hobby that absorbs your mind fully, so that you can concentrated on something completely different than your research. There are plenty of options such musical instruments, gardening, cooking, sports activities and many others.
- Get your finances sorted out
Avoid financial stress during your studies. Get a good overview of your finances, get to know in how much debt you will be getting over your studies (if any), and always have an emergency fund ready in case anything goes south. Don’t overspend.
- Make time for your friends and family
There will be times when you bunker down and don’t call anybody. But make sure you find the time to catch up with your friends and family every now and then. They are what truly matters in the end.
- Write, write and write some more
Write as often as you can, as much as you can, so that by the time you write your dissertation, you will have become a fluent academic writer. Writing is your single most important task, so make time for it. Practice makes perfect (or at least – experienced), so ask for ample feedback.
- Make time for deep work
Get a good slot of time to do your deep work, as this is the time when you get to push your project forwards. Dedicate an entire morning or afternoon to unraveling one tiny sub question of your research question.
- Remember why you started this PhD journey in the first place
You must have your own reasons why you decided to pursue a PhD, but remind yourself from time to time why you started this in the first place. Remember the greater goals you have in mind, and know that it was your personal choice to start.