Thursday, 30 September 2010

Advice to a new student

As of the start of this week, I'm officially the co-supervisor of a PhD. student. Technically, she really "belongs" to a colleague, but I expect to play a role in her work, and today we had our first, largely informal meeting with her. Suddenly things feel all grown-up.

Anyway, the thought occurs: What advice would I give a new PhD. student? There are lots of obvious, practical things, but what else did I learn (or, more commonly, not learn) from my own studies back in the 1990s? The following are the first 10 things that crossed my mind ...
  1. You do not need to fully read and comprehend every paper that you come across
  2. Don't shy from presenting your work: you need the practice, and the thick skin
  3. Try to publish something while you're still a student; get over the idea that papers are written by "gods"
  4. Your "superiors" do not know everything; ignorance does not make you an idiot
  5. No matter what time you start and finish, there will always be fellow students who seem to work harder than you; secret: they're not
  6. Try to recognise perfectionism in your thesis-writing and get over it
  7. Enjoy your PhD studies; they give you a freedom to try things that you'll never have again
  8. Take your full allowance of holidays; try not to work weekends until you have to
  9. You will make some of your best friends during your studies; don't lose them trying to sort out your career
  10. LATEX is the best way to write your thesis
I'm not sure how helpful these are, but taking them to heart when I was a student would certainly have helped me (and I could add a few more concerning supervisor management, but I won't get onto that).


Anne Gearhart said...

I'll have to give this one some thought, but the most key piece of advice that comes to me is that it seemed that the people who were most successful were those who had some very grounded interpersonal support, such as a sweetheart who wasn't also in Grad School.

Plumbago said...

Yes, that definitely sounds like a good piece of advice. Doing a postgraduate degree is a pretty good way of exposing yourself to regular, confidence-sapping self-criticism. So unless one has vast, untapped reserves of self-confidence (which may actually be huge stocks of self-delusion), doing the grad school thing requires a large helping of support from others - preferably from those who aren't undergoing the same soul-questioning scrutiny.

But that, coming from me, does sound a little like post-hoc rationalisation! :-)

Anyway, in the case of my shared student, she has a boyfriend who works full-time for the company that runs Southampton's docks. So I think she passes this particular stress-test.