Surviving a PhD – A Guide from the Survivors*

June 21, 2019


Completing a PhD is never meant to be easy, it is the most advanced type of study available in most countries. Undertaking a PhD can be stressful, time consuming and can take you away from activities you enjoy most. However, there are ways to make things easier. This blog post covers some of the tips our PhD students have found useful for them, and just might make your experience better.

Take part in Shut up and Write sessions

Shut up and Write sessions are a great opportunity to get a good chunk of work done in a short amount of time, whilst also being able to meet other researchers who are in a similar situation to you. Find a local café or meeting spot and get writing. The sessions make writing fun and relaxing, especially because it moves you away from your typical writing environment.

If you need some extra motivation, follow ShutUp&WriteTuesdays on Twitter.

Don’t give up your social life

It’s easy to get caught up in the world of study and research and forget about the other aspects that make up your life. Taking time out for your social life is vital to relieve stress and clear your head from your research. To make life easier you could schedule in a weekly or fortnightly time that you dedicate to catching up with friends, so you can still manage your work around it.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that encourages breaking up work into intervals and separates the intervals with short breaks. The breakdown consists of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off and then a 25-minute break after each group of four sessions. The technique is good for tasks that require intense concentration.  D2D CRC PhD student Miah recommends the Focus Keeper application.

Be Active

It’s no secret that exercise has immense benefits to all aspects of life.  It is likely that you spend most of your day in a chair, staring at a screen. To offset the negative impacts from sitting, it is recommended that people do one hour of exercise a day. Activity doesn’t necessarily need to be a gym session or playing a game of sport. It could be as simple as going for an evening walk.  Not only will exercise reduce health impacts and keep away those added kilos, it helps you focus, gives you more energy and puts you in an all-round better mood. This will help you to write more effectively and efficiently.

Spend time talking with other researchers

You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last to complete a PhD, so speak to others about how you’re feeling. Whether it be to vent, to discuss a problem, build on ideas or gain some useful tips, talking with people who are in a similar boat to you will be beneficial. This also includes your supervisor. Your supervisor is there to help guide you through your PhD, through triumphs and difficulties. Make the most of that connection, chances are they have been through it all before as well.

Set yourself writing goals

Setting yourself goals can help break up your large or overwhelming work load into smaller, more manageable tasks that are easier to complete. Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) is an annual writing month that takes part in November around the world. The aim is to set yourself a writing goal that you would like to achieve by the end of the month. You might count the number of words written, hours spent, or projects undertaken – whatever is best for you. The organisers encourage you to chart how you are going and to let other participants know your final results at the end of the month, so people can see what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind, just because this event only runs in November, there is nothing stopping you creating writing goals for other months too.

Lastly, remember that you are only human and that your writing isn’t going to be perfect straight away. Keep working, editing, speaking to others and most importantly, take time for yourself.

*The students that have provided these tips have not necessarily completed their PhD yet.