Kshitij Tiwari, Ph.D.

15 Tips for First Year PhD Scholars

10 min read

If you are reading this article, I am assuming that you have made up your mind to pursue a PhD, have secured an offer and either started or are likely to start your PhD journey shortly. Either way, congratulations!! on finding a suitable supervisor and university to pursue your PhD.

While you may be busy planning the logistics and setting up your base at the University campus, know that the first year of the PhD will likely get very busy. The thing is that in your first year, you start out with a blank canvas and you will have to learn to set boundaries and manage your work-life balance or you can easily get overwhelmed. So, in this article, we will look at the things to do in the first year of PhD.

Get to know the professor and group

The first thing to do in the first year of your PhD is to get to know about your Supervisor and the rest of the members in the research group. It is important to understand the research focus of your professor and the particular project you will be working on. This will help you to work more effectively to make progress towards any pre-planned deliverables and establish yourself as a valuable member of the group.

Know the other departments and campus facilities

During your first year at the university, you should make an effort to get to know about other departments and facilities on campus. The sooner you start familiarizing yourself with the university, the better it is. It would also be beneficial to find out about the resources and facilities available to you, including the library, the computer lab, etc. Like this you can set up synergetic inter- and intra-departmental collaborations to speed up your research when the time comes.

Identify graduation requirements for PhD

You should also make an effort to understand the graduation requirements for PhD in your institution. These might include aspects such as minimum number of credits, minimum number of conference and journal publications, a mandatory internship or a professional qualification exam. Knowing what is required of you in the degree will help you to craft a suitable study plan and stay on track.

This will help you to plan and prepare for the milestones that you need to achieve in order to graduate. It will also give you an understanding of the timeline and help you plan your research journey accordingly.

Plan your course work

In the first year of your PhD, you will likely take courses relevant to your research topic. Make sure to carefully plan your coursework in a way that it serves you and your research interests. Make sure to get acquainted with the required textbooks and learning resources as soon as possible.

Learn how to conduct research

Your first year of PhD is not only about coursework, but also about learning the methods and techniques of research. You should make an effort to understand the fundamentals of research and the scientific methods used by peers in your niche. Ideally, if you can cite some of the existing works as a proof for utilizing certain methods, you can focus your energy towards justifying your results as opposed to also having to justify the methods.

Develop a research plan

In the first year of your PhD, you should also focus on developing a research plan. This plan should clearly define the goals and objectives of your research, the methodology and the timeline for completion. You can consult your professor for guidance and support in this exercise.

Once you have a research plan in place, develop a timeline for your research. Set realistic goals and milestones that you need to achieve and make sure to stick to them in order to stay on track.

 

Identify typical top tier publication venues

In the first year of your PhD, you should make an effort to identify the typical top-tier publication venues in your field. You should familiarize yourself with their guidelines and submission process because you will need to proactively publish if you want to stay relevant in your niche.



You can also start submitting papers to these venues if you have research results to show but be mindful of the predatory venues. You want to carefully balance out the quality and quantity of your publications such that you can build your reputation in the community without having to compromise on the quality of your contributions.

 

Identify active and highly cited scholars in your niche

In the first year of your PhD, you should also make an effort to identify the active and highly cited scholars in your niche. You can look for their publications, citation count and impact factor score. You can reach out to them for guidance and advice and use their work as a potential motivation to guide your own area of research.

 

Identify typical tools used in your niche

During your first year, you should also make an effort to learn to use the tools, software and platforms relevant to your field. Make note of requirements such as licenses that would be a precursor to getting started with using such tools and proactively sort out such administrative matters.

Plan and set up literature review database

A literature review database is a great way to keep track of all the relevant papers in your niche and is a great tool for writing literature reviews. Make sure to plan and set up such a database as soon as possible so that you have all the content in place for writing a great literature review.



Technically, you could do this offline and manually too by printing our manuscripts and scribbling notes, but this can easily get out of hand over time as you read more and more articles. So, try to do this using tools like Notion, Google Sheets etc. making it using to query the database and find relevant information when needed.

Brace yourself for rejections

One thing to keep in mind is that rejections, rejections and rejections are part and parcel of the academic research and the first will will sting (a lot). Do not be too disheartened if you find a paper of yours being rejected. In fact, it might be so that you will participate in grant proposal writing too in various capacities and rejections happen there too given the fierce competition for limited funding sources.

 

Instead, use the feedback to further improve and refine your paper and proposals. Rejection does not necessarily indicate that you should lower your expectations and start aiming lower. It should be taken in a positive stride to further build upon your previous work and try again with an improved version. Additionally, think about possible diversification to maximize your chances of acceptance.

Network with peers and industry professionals

Networking is an important part of finding success in any field, and it is especially important when pursuing a PhD. Reach out to your peers and industry professionals to start building a network of contacts.

In the first year of your PhD, you should also make time to set up your academic social profiles. This will make it for your peers, industry contacts and potential employers to find you and connect with you. Setting up profiles on websites like Google Scholar and ResearchGate is a great way to start. You can also create a personal website or blog to showcase your work. Or, you aren’t not comfortable managing your own website, utilize existing platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn to share your progress and connect with peers and potential employers.

Set aside time for hobbies and mental health

It is important to remember to take some time to relax and recharge during the first year of your PhD. Pursuing a PhD can be stressful and demanding, and it is important to take care of your mental health by doing things that you enjoy. Set aside time for activities like running, yoga, reading or watching movies. This can help you to stay productive and energized throughout the year and the rest of your PhD journey.

Maintain a research diary

Maintaining a research diary is a great way to keep a record of your thoughts and progress. It is also useful to look back and see your progress over time. You can also use this to organize and plan your research, set up a timeline, and track the results of your research. You can also use this to write down any ideas, inspirations and motivations you may come across.

Remember that every idea that looks great on paper may not materialize in real life but that is not to say the idea is worthless. With time as you gain more experience, you will get more insights into refining and salvaging some of your earlier ideas so it is great to have a diary to sift through.

Set up work environment

The work you do during your PhD should be comfortable and conducive to productivity. Set up your work desk in a way that provides you with the best environment. Make sure to have comfortable seating, good lighting, a neat and organized workspace, and whatever else you need to make sure that you are comfortable and can focus on your work.



During the tougher times, you will likely procrastinate and want to clean your desk, rearrange your desk etc. To not have to deal with such challenge down the line, it is better to set up the work environment in the early days.



Finally, it is important to understand your working style in order to make the most out of your first year of PhD. Are you more productive during the mornings or nights? Do you need long breaks or short intervals of work? Do you work better in silence or with some background noise? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you to develop a study routine that works best for you. Experiment with different techniques, find what works best and stick to it.

Key takeaways

The first year of your PhD can be a daunting experience but remember to take it one step at a time. Break down your goals into smaller chunks, set up a timeline for completion and make sure to stay motivated and focused throughout. Not knowing the way forward can seem scary but with these tips in mind, you can set yourself up for success down the life. Good luck with your PhD!