Embarking in a PhD journey can be overwhelming and daunting, but having useful resources during my first year has been an incredible asset. I write this article from the perspective of an international student in the UK, having the privilege of a fully-funded studentship and multiple support mechanisms embedded in my university and research group. While I believe that each journey is unique, I think that getting one’s head around what a PhD entails is crucial for enjoying the ride. In this post, I will share a list of different resources (within and beyond my discipline) that have helped me so far.
In the first month of my studies, I divided my time between organising my workspace and understanding what is required to complete a PhD. Firstly, regarding the organisational tools, I set up a dedicated file hosting service (e.g. Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive) for my PhD. In this way, all my files were backed up from day one. I familiarised myself with a reference manager (e.g. Mendeley or Endnote), helping get all my references in check; you would be surprised how quickly research papers start flooding your folders. Secondly, I read the book ‘How to Get a PhD’ by Estelle Phillips. This book helped me visualise the big picture and understand the ‘unwritten rules’ of a PhD. I enjoyed its examples around time management, supervisory relationships, and maintaining a work-life balance.
Other useful blogs to get started:
- The Thesis Whisperer: A website full of resources from avoiding distractions to mapping out a thesis edited by Associate Professor Inger Mewburn.
- Labmosphere: A website with a bunch of resources on staying mentally healthy in an academic environment.
Reading and Writing
When my mom asked me what was I doing in my first months of the PhD, all I could respond was: ‘read and take notes, mom‘. While I’ve found that reading and writing has been crucial, there is much more beyond this. For instance, the following two articles aided me in developing the skills of reading an academic paper and summarising these papers effectively.
When it comes to writing up, a book that I regularly revise is ‘Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English‘ by Hilary Glassman-Deal. As an international student, this book has been a staple, but I think native speakers may find it useful as it articulates the steps of academic writing. Lastly, the ‘Academic Phrasebank‘ by the University of Manchester has been an incredible resource for a concise narrative.
Immersing into Different Disciplines
Beyond reading, I enjoy consuming other media formats related to my research topic. I listened to podcasts and followed YouTube channels that discussed areas of my research interest. For human-computer interaction (HCI), I listened to the Microsoft Research podcast. In terms of project and time management, I listen to Adam Grant’s show ‘Work Life’. I also spend a bunch of time on Twitter (follow me @CarlosAlvarezIF) where I have curated public lists on specific areas of interest (e.g. this one on ‘Future of Work’).
Also, consuming content outside of my area of study has helped me seeing my PhD as a holistic and creative process where I can draw from other disciplines. For instance, YouTube’s Documentary series ‘The Age of A.I.‘ has been food for thought around technological advancements. Yuval Noah Harari’s books have also brought perspective to start understanding the existential challenges humanity faces. For me, taking time to appreciate different perspectives and being curios about the world around has been a delightful discovery during my first year. Drawing inspiration and concepts from other areas has certainly made the journey of constantly re-learning pleasant.
The resources mentioned above have been merely an overview of what I recall revising and using only a few months away from completing my first year. To sum up, getting started may seem daunting, but staying organised and seeing the big picture keeps me motivated. I hope to keep improving my reading and writing strategies throughout my studies. It can be quite refreshing to disconnect from my research and draw inspiration from multimedia channels.