Thursday, 4 May 2017

Making the Most of your PHD - Tip 1

Re-adjust and reset your perspective and mindset ASAP

  • PhD is a whole different ball game to UG or PGT study
  • No two PhDs are the same - So don't compare with others 
  • Apprenticeship in 'Scientific Thinking' - a transferable skill set
  • Unstructured days to be structured by you 
  • No exams, modules, worked examples, set learning pieces, grades or known answers 
  • Feedback supplied differently - via supervisor relationships, confirmation and end of year reviews and peer review
  • Sign up to one of the Graduate School's Nature of the Doctorate, Nature of the Engineering Doctorate or online Understanding your Research Degree courses to explore the differences in more detail.

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 2

Prepare to lead and lead to prepare 


  • Prepare to lead your own research-enterprise from the start - take control
  • Don’t depend too much on your supervisors
  • Work towards cutting loose as an independent researcher
  • Early simple ways include:
    • preparing for supervisor meetings with progress outlines, plans, checklists of items for review, sign off, approval AND outstanding questions or advice required
    • talking to presenters after seminars
    • and reaching out to academic authors online 
  • Look for leadership opportunities during PhD to demonstrate independence and in later stages cut loose from supervisor 
    • propose, contribute, convene, host, run events and student led initiatives 
    • pitch a new mini project idea to win funding via UNICAS Sandpits 
    • bridging postdoc awards – eg EPSRC Doctoral Prize 
    • spin out your research idea or extend research reach and impact -your research may ultimately have greater impact outside your field

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 3

Be a reflective and strategic practitioner regarding your own development, training and career

  • Conduct your own Training Needs Analysis, identify gaps
  • Think about your career as early as possible and as you go along
  • Work out what you do or don't like doing - try to keep an open mind you may be surprised
  • Hatch a plan and build capacity alongside PhD 
  • Be guided by the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) 
  • Attend relevant Graduate School Courses and CPD events 
  • Don't discount courses outside your discipline
  • Use Careers Service - and listen out for alumni or existing PGR insight events

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 4

Make the most of opportunities, CPD courses and events

  • Many previous PhD students wish they did this more whilst at University
  • Many freely available whilst at University
  • Or at reduced rate when 'still a student'
  • Make sure you are aware of what’s available to you
  • Faculty PGR training programme 
  • Graduate School courses, Professional Body CPD
  • Competitions/awards, short-term paid placements 
  • Shadowing and meeting attendance - insights into how Academia works 
  • Coding and programming, statistics training or peer communities 
  • Monitor Engineering and Science Graduate Centre events
  • Gain teaching experience - via teaching new or existing courses on the PGR Engineering Training Programme; Applying for demonstrator/tutor roles; Follow Associate Teaching Pathway for accreditation
  • Professional bodies - join and subscribe to take advantage of student member rates
  • Travel awards and 'newbie' funding applications for Conference attendance

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 5

Project Manage your PHD 

  • Helps you manage research project and time effectively
  • Goals, planning, sequencing activity, structure for your working day, deadline charting, milestone marking
  • Sought after employer skill
  • Gives you a level of control and sense of direction
  • Helps you monitor progress and keep motivated
  • Can ensure you don’t burn yourself out too soon

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 6

Deal with Deadlines 

  • Don’t let them slide  
  • Set your own and make them known! 
  • Crack down on thesis submission deadlines and timescales 
  • Don’t leave writing to last 6 months 
  • Lots of formatting, referencing, story crafting and editing to be done in final stages 
  • Check availability of supervisors and factor this in to any deadlines you set 
  • Work out how you work best – with pressure or with time to spare?

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 7

Park perfectionism and develop a thick skin

  • Allow for failure without feeling like one 
  • Half-baked ideas, editing and changing plans are all part of the process 
  • From big fish to just a fish – imposter syndrome common 
  • Ok to make mistakes – avoid repeating though 
  • Ok to ask for help 
  • Expect a plan B, C and D and critical, constructive feedback 
  • Recall perfectionism when needed i.e quality of argument, methodology, critical thinking, research ethics and integrity, data management and analysis, presenting your original and novel contribution clearly
  • 'I have not failed I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work' (Thomas A. Edison) - Good science and robust research still secures a PhD

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 8

Institutional KnowledgeUniversity, Funder, Faculty, Research group

  • Rules, regulations, operating guidelines
  • Faculty PGR Student Handbook; PGR Student Training Programme; Supervision and Progression Guide for Research Students
  • Get to know who your Postgraduate Student Advisor (PSA) is
  • University of Nottingham Quality Manual – roles and responsibilities 
  • Quality Assurance Agency for HE (QAA) Guide for Doctoral students - created with NUS 
  • Funders website and guidance

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 9

Network, Network, Network

  • Internally, cross faculty, school and department 
  • Externally – public engagement, conferences 
  • Online 
  • Must make a conscious effort to build and maintain networks
  • Networks require maintenance 
  • Successful students spend a lot of time doing this
  • Another common previous PHD student gripe – should have spent more time doing this!

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 10

Relationships Count …. especially with Supervisors

  • Requires work on your part
  • Use them to best advantage (for both parties)
  • Use to help set and agree goals, sign off your plans, negotiate direction, review progress, Troubleshoot, “open doors”, get out of dead-ends, with writing for academic publication 
  • Don’t underestimate importance of this relationship
  • Your supervisor is not your examiner

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 11

High achieving Postgrads are enterprising in their research and entrepreneurial in outlook

  • Research Innovators and Academic Entrepreneurs do not overlook the business of research
  • Research driven Universities must be innovative organisations
  • PhD is training in innovation - a novel/original contribution
  • PGRs are Innovators, Creators and Pioneers, enterprising in research
  • Scientists and engineers make good entrepreneurs
  • Academic Entrepreneurs
  • Successful PGRs know University is a business and needs to secure funding to survive - So value business awareness, acumen and training
    • significant research funding from industry
    • accelerated research grants
    • commercialising research is one way to extend reach and impact
    • spin out companies and/or patents and inventions
    • Industry and University research collaborations and sandpits
    • research leader roles, funding grant bids and applications, research strategy decisions, budget and resource management
    • social enterprise & societal benefits of innovative research
  • Roles outside academia - in industry or university academic liaison roles
  • Business skills development - via PGR enterprise competitions (YES and Ingenuity Lab)

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 12

Write, Write, Write

  • And write some more….. 
  • Publish as you go ... if possible
  • Write as much as you can and as often as you can to become a fluent academic writer
  • Could your literature review be published and each experiment be separate conference papers?
  • Papers and publications show your work has been through some element of peer review and scholarly scrutiny already
  • Don’t leave writing until last 6 months 
  • Don't underestimate time needed for editing, corrections, referencing, formatting, crafting etc. 
  • Storytelling skills required in the final stage

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 13

Be as interdisciplinary as possible.
  • Broaden your horizons
  • Engage with public
  • Venture outside subject area by attending seminars put on by other schools/faculties
  • New research angles
  • Alternative perspectives
  • New contacts or future collaborators
  • New or future research directions
  • Extended reach and impact of research
  • You never know where your research will have greatest impact
  • Supervisors from two different faculties a bonus - but expect conflicting advice and diverse approaches
  • Gap in knowledge – can you take a relevant module?

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 14

Present, Present, Present 

Take every opportunity - all types

  • Conferences
  • Posters
  • Internal seminars and events
  • Student led events – EMDOC and SU Link conferences
  • Annual Cumberland Lodge Doctoral Student Conference
  • Public engagementPubPHD, Graduate Centre Events, Wonder
  • 3 Minute Thesis (3MT)
  • Elevator pitches
  • Snap, Lightning or Ignite talks
  • Pecha Kucha
  • Graduate School presentation skills courses
  • Book Engineering and Science Graduate Centre seminar room and practice
  • Become a demonstrator for Graduate School Presentation Skills courses

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 15

PHD does not have to be lonely

  • After all research is all about 'Standing on the shoulders of giants’ 
  • Science is made up of communities not lonely people (Professor Sarah Sharples) 
  • Learn from others – peers, present to mixed audiences, public 
  • Engineering and Science Graduate Centre (ESGC) and it's events 
  • Graduate school courses – mixed faculty audiences 
  • Share half-baked ideas with supervisors
  • Test ideas out, bounce ideas off peers
  • Make sure you ask for help if needed
  • Don’t isolate yourself

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 16

Raise your profile and leave a footprint

There are many different ways you can do this

  • Publish in high impact journals and/or open access
  • Write, write, write 
  • Increased citation counts and/or patent production 
  • ORCID 
  • Online profiles
  • Prepare to lead (at outset) and lead to prepare (for independence) 
  • Present, present, present -  at conferences and other events 
  • Travel and researcher mobility awards 
  • Network, network, network!
  • Host, run, convene PGR events and forums 
  • Win recognition via awards/competition achievement

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 17

Look after yourself

You are a product of the PHD as well as your Thesis

  • Make time for self and family 
  • Accept things may not always go to plan
  • Project manage your PHD to avoid burnout
  • Be strategic – trying to do everything will result in burnout
  • Develop your professional skills as well as research skills
  • The Graduate School offers wellbeing support information for PGs at including a link to the ‘The PhD Survival Video’ for doctoral students.
  • Cut yourself some slack – your research maybe one step forward and not change the world
  • But it just might!

Making the Most of Your PHD - Tip 18

Check out what other’s have to say 

By logging in to view video recordings from Professor Sarah Sharples and Jorge Cham regarding what they learned by completing a PhD

and find additional answers for your competition entry
(university login required)