Postgraduate Guest Blog: Advice to my younger self – top tips for new (and current) PhD students Part 1 The PhD

In General

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We asked postgraduate student Zoe M. Harris to write a post to give students some advice for new and current PhD students. She has done just that and some of her gems of knowledge may be useful to undergraduates as well! Zoe’s advice will appear in a weekly series starting with this post with tips on the PhD. Stay tuned for next week’s post about the job hunt.

After handing in my thesis and waiting to viva (this is an oral examination for those that don’t know!), I was applying for jobs and working as a research assistant writing papers from my PhD. I noticed that in my job interviews most of the examples I was using to show off my experience and competencies were from extra-curricular activities I was undertaking alongside my PhD. I was desperate to tell others to do this to help (and maybe even inspire…) the rest of the PG community at the University of Southampton. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to email or tweet me to ask me anything! @Zoe_M_Harris or Z.M.Harris@soton.ac.uk

The PhD

  1. Invest in a procrastination buster!

Carrying out research using the internet is nothing short of a technological miracle but there is so much out there that is wonderfully distracting! Invest in one of these and limit the amount of time you can spend each day on procrastinating websites! I would recommend the chrome browser add on ‘StayFocusd’.

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  1. Invest in good referencing software

Read this article. They have reviewed 8 pieces of referencing software highlighting the pros and cons of each. Try a few out and find which one works best for you.

  1. Learn to Code

Coding is an invaluable skill! Almost every postdoc advert I read wants coding skills. It makes handling large data sets and doing statistics so much easier so it’s worth spending the time now to learn. Don’t forget a PhD is a learning journey, so invest the time now.


Useful places to start…

Unix: http://linux.co.uk/documentation/tutorials/unix-tutorial-0/

Iridis: Online courses with iSolutions

R: The R-book: www.kharms.biology.lsu.edu/CrawleyMJ_TheRBook.pdf

General courses: https://software-carpentry.org/workshops/index.html


  1. Never be afraid to ask for help

Now is the best time to ask STUPID QUESTIONS! There are so many knowledgeable people around you, make use of their expertise! And if you don’t want to use your words, try the internet. Such as StackExchange for R-related/stats problems or ResearchGate Q&A’s.

  1. Think Publications

Publications act as academic currency aka they help you get jobs. Always try to think how your research could be divided up into publications. And maybe consider the 3-paper thesis which the university approved last year: http://tinyurl.com/oxox6bo – ask your supervisors if it’s something you might like to do. Also, look out for writing course at the uni. Check out the ThinkWrite website for some great free resources: http://www.thinkwrite.biz/

  1. Get out of the country as often as possible…with work!

I have managed to get to 4 European countries, 3 USA states and numerous places in the UK. It has been great fun and I have benefited from all of the above!

  1. Always Apply for Travel Grants

This excellently demonstrates that you are able to win money – an essential skill for a postdoc and future academic. Even if the money is available in your project – do this!

  1. Present as often as you can

This Builds confidence and is a chance to get feedback! In house seminars give you a chance to practice in front of peers, you can play with your communication skills and develop your communication with non-experts.

  1. Get involved in Extra-Curricular Activities

This one is a biggie! Half of the examples I give in interviews come from my experiences in my extra-curricular activities because they give to a wealth of transferable skills. They also show you are a rounded individual and can manage your time well. Below are some examples related to biological sciences but there are plenty of opportunities across the university – and they don’t have to be science related at all!

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By Zoe M Harris

If you are a current University of Southampton student or alumni and you would like to write a guest blog for us, please email comms@susu.org. We would love to hear your story!

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