13 Secrets to Spectacular Success in Your PhD

Are you keeping up to date with the latest advances in research? Are you getting enough practical results? How are you preparing for your viva? Do you have an edge over other researchers? Is your work novel? Is your work worthy of a PhD?

I believe that the main ingredient to success as a researcher lies in establishing good routines. You may thinking, “Researchers hate routines” or “we need flexibility to ensure that we are creative not another stupid routine”.

Here are some routines.  Think about these and implement in your research endevours.

1. Make a habit of reading the latest research papers from the top journals such as nature, sceince, soft matter, etc daily. Do this first thing in the morning, lunch time evening or just before you go to bed. Choose the best time for you and then stick with it. I like early mornings. You may prefer late evening if you’re an owl. Whatever time you choose, be consistent.

2. Make a routine of reflecting on what you have read. Think about the key findings and points made by the researchers. Write a critical summary of the paper you have read. What were the key findings? What are the short comings of this paper? How can it be improved? What would you do differently? Could you do experiments in your laboratory the authors have not carried out. Force yourself to write a critical summary every paper you read. You will develop your analytical thinking. You will become more creative.

3. Make a habit of debating what you have read with anyone who will enter into a challenging debate with you. Discuss the paper with your supervisors and colleagues. Enter into email or Skype dialogue with people who wrote the paper. You will develop your ability to construct scientific arguments. Make sure you are very polite and humble in your approach. Nobody likes a cocky researcher no matter how good he or she is. Humility is a great virtue in research. People will open up to you and you will learn a lot more in the process.

4. Every 3 months write a critical review of all the papers you have read. Write a coherent story of the state of the art in your field. Once you have written it invite feedback. Send it to your supervisors and colleagues. Send to research friends in other institutions. Make sure you really pay attention to the feedback you have received. How can you improve what you have written? Think about the technical content, research arguments. Check grammar and writing style. This a great opportunity for your to learn. You must learn.

5. As a habit of attend all the seminars in your school and as many conferences as possible. Write down key points during the seminar. Ask the speaker questions afterwards.  If time is limited, invite the researcher for a coffee and keep asking as many technical questions as you can.  Be a detective, find as much as you can about the subject. You are Sherlock Holmes!

6. At every opportunity present your research work to an audience. This useful both within your own institution and outside at conferences and research meetings. Dialogue with as many people as possible. You will build your presentation skills, communication ability and ways of answering questions. When you are asked questions then answer to the best of your ability. Be honest in your answers. This also opportunity for you to learn. It is highly likely someone in the audience will have a different insight to you. Invite them to comment.

7. Make a detailed plan of your work. Break it down into yearly, quarterly, monthly and daily goals. Ensure that you list all the tasks you have to complete. Review you plans, daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. Daily review should only take about 15 minutes, weekly maybe 1 hour and quarterly a little longer. These reviews are essential to keep you on track.  You will stay focused on the your vision and research objectives. Proper planing will save you a lot a time, reduce mistakes and wasted effort.

8. If your research involves laboratory work make sure you have a core routine lab time to complete you work. You need to finish enough experiments and get sufficient data for your PhD.

9. Make sure you write down in detail experiments that you will be doing in advance. Write the materials, quantities, order, timings, weights, instructions, calibrations etc. This is your method in as much detail as possible. Whilst you are carrying out your experiments make sure you record every single detail.  A good researcher is meticulous in writing down the very minute detail of the experiment.

10. Once you have written down everything about the experiment and have obtained all your data analyse the results. Use your own knowledge and understanding, Discuss results with your supervisor and colleagues who can add further insight or validate your own interpretation of the research results. Look at relevant papers and see if they add further insights to your understanding.

11. Now you are ready to write up your experiment in detail. Make a habit of writing up your experimental work as soon as you finished it.  Do this in as much detail as possible. Don’t rush it. Try to make the write-up as perfect as you can. Get feedback from supervisors and colleagues. Review the feedback and incorporate it into the final draft. You will revisit this later when you write your transfer report, research papers, presentations and thesis. Once you have a set of experiments collate them in a logical sequence.

12. Make a habit of keep your references up to date. Use appropriate software such as reference manager, end note etc. This habit will save you considerable time later when you have to write papers, reports and thesis.

13. Every time you complete a significant amount of experimental/modelling work or written a report or a research paper then you must be grateful and celebrate.

Do you have a routine or habit that will help researchers? Please send comments NOW.

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