Advice & Recommendation for Incoming PhD Students 2022

I just finished my PhD a few months ago, so the whole experience is still very fresh for me. Here is what I learned in summary.

You must be passionate about the process: It’s a very long process, so If it’s not about passion, the whole process becomes a burd.

Find out the basic driving force for pursuing the PhD in the first place to know if the reason is good enough to keep you going amidst the challenges that may come with it.

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Advice for incoming PhD students

Here are essential advice and recommendation for incoming PhD students;

  1. Research Takes a Lot of Time
  2. Know your Purpose
  3. Pick the Right Advisor
  4. Prepare yourself for the Challenges
  5. Expect to Work Independently
  6. Not an Automatic Ticket for Financial Freedom
  7. Develop Passion for Research
  8. Prepare for the Work
  9. Run your Race
  10. Have a Life Outside your PhD

Research Takes a Lot of Time

  • Expect to spend months, if not years, on a single project.
  • Expect to work on multiple projects beyond your dissertation work.
  • Expect to spend 4–8 years doing the PhD.

Know your Purpose

Don’t do a PhD to check off the box that you got all your “degrees”.

A PhD is nothing like a Bachelor’s or Masters.

It is not about taking courses. It’s about proving to yourself, and to the world, that you can do cutting edge novel research.

Pick the Right Advisor

This is far more important than picking a good school.

Your advisor is the one that will guide all your work. They should be as knowledgeable, approachable, and helpful as possible.

Some advisors are slave drivers, having meetings almost on a daily basis and piling more and more work on your desk. Others are ghosts, that you rarely ever see them.

Some advisors know nothing about your research interests, while others are the leading authorities on it.

It is up to you to find the best advisor. They should equally impress you as you do them!

Prepare yourself for the Challenges

You will experience different types of failure and frustrations, learn from them and move on fast.

These include paper rejections, lack of research ideas, failed experiments, criticism about your work, self-doubt, etc.

You will experience far more lows than highs in the PhD.

What will set you apart from others to succeed and graduate one day is how you dealt with those lows to move forward.

Expect to Work Independently

You must define your own research agenda and goals.

This comes as a surprise to a LOT of new students who expect that their advisors will lay out work schedules for them, defining every detail of what they should do.

Most advisors don’t do this, it’s your responsibility. Your advisor is there to mentor, not babysit, you.

Not an Automatic Ticket for Financial Freedom

Do not expect that getting a PhD will make you financially rich.

The #1 question I get asked by new students is how much money could they make if they get a PhD.

In some cases, it can be a big salary boost. But in most cases you will make more money by working in the industry for the time it takes you to get the PhD.

If your goal is to get rich, then the PhD is not for you.

Develop Passion for Research

In general, the PhD is not for most people, and that’s okay.

Doing a PhD is about a passion for science and research. It’s about sacrificing many years to pursue that passion. Most people don’t have that drive, and that’s okay!

For 99% of jobs in the industry, you don’t need a PhD.

The main job prospects after graduating are becoming a professor or working in a research lab.

These jobs are not for everyone, it’s about what you love doing.

Prepare for the Work

You will at times work 7 days a week, 10–14 hours a day.

I have even slept in my lab space overnight several times.

A PhD is demanding intellectually as well as emotionally and physically.

A PhD is a lot of work for very little pay. If you have a family depending on you financially, this becomes a challenge.

You will suffer from imposter syndrome, but the truth is you don’t need to be a genius to do a PhD.

A lot of people think the PhD is only for very “intelligent” individuals. But almost anyone can do a PhD. It just requires immense dedication.

Many students, when they start a PhD, will suffer from imposter syndrome. I did, and many of my friends did too! At first, you will be scared, feeling completely lost at times.

This is natural, no one expects new students to really know much.

Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.

Learn how to be a good learner: reach out to others, ask as many questions as you can!

Run your Race

Do not get bogged down in the academic race to outdo others.

As you progress with your PhD, you will start feeling pressure to produce more quantity than quality.

A lot of people start thinking they need to publish more and more to look better.

Focus on doing one (1) high-quality publication instead of four (4) low-quality ones.

Some students also start feeling competitive with other researchers in their field. Some competition is healthy, but it can quickly become a distraction.

Don’t focus on being better than others. Focus on being better than your past self. Improve your own work rather than outdoing someone else’s.

Have a Life Outside your PhD

Don’t forget to have a life outside your PhD!

A lot of students get sucked so much into their work they forget their own health or that there’s an outside world.

Eat healthy, exercise, do yoga, meditate, whatever gives you a healthy mindset and body.

Have an active social life: volunteer for a charity, go to community events, go on dates or spend time with your partner, visit family and friends.

Surround yourself with people who love you. They are the ones who are there to pick you up if you ever fall.

Culled from Olanike Coker Akinduyite a FUTA Alumnus

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