Settling into Postgraduate Life - 23 simple tips for PhD students

Written By

Think Postgrad

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do PhD students pay council tax?
  • What is it like to be a PhD Student?

We asked some PhD students and Postgraduate Societies for their tips on how to make a smooth start to a PhD, both for students staying at the same university as well as those moving somewhere different. Here is what they told us:

General Tips – Admin and Finance
  • Get your admin and finances sorted as a priority. Find out how to get your studentship or scholarship payments if you’re lucky enough to receive them.
  • Make sure you’re put on relevant mailing lists for seminars, PhD student socials and other activities
  • Introduce yourself to your admin team – they will be your best friends.
General Tips – Social and work life balance
  • Explore the Students’ Union it's a great money saving tip for students – it is for everyone, Postgrads included! And they’re valuable places to pick up lunch, meet for a drink with friends, even get a cheap haircut or visit the opticians!
  • You can still do all the fun things you did during your undergrad – look out for sports clubs, societies, or join your Postgraduate Society if you want to directly shape the postgraduate experience.
  • We’ve found that making friends both inside and outside of your department can really boost the postgraduate experience and help with the transition.
General Tips – Doing your PhD
  • Whether you are a student straight from an undergraduate course or are doing a PhD later in life you should get to know the postgraduate work spaces you will have access to. Familiarise yourself with arrangements to access building, labs and the library, including out of hours.
  • Make sure you know about any conferences you can go to, deadlines you need to meet for progression, funds you can apply for and professional development opportunities such as courses and teaching you can take advantage of.
  • Have a chat with your supervisor and establish expectations for meetings, setting goals and working hours.
  • Give it time. Don’t compare your own progress to that of other PhD students, because every PhD is different.
  • Don’t be afraid to write badly at first. Keep trying. It’s usual to be confused. It will get better.
  • Don’t forget to keep a healthy work-life balance, get to know your fellow postgrads in your office or lab and make sure you have a support network.
  • You can also be elected as the postgraduate representative for your course or PhD cohort and thus make a positive impact during your time. Your experience depends entirely on what you make of it, so don’t be afraid to go out on a limb!
  • Talk to people. Whether it’s your peers, your supervisors or guests giving a talk at your institute, you can always learn some useful information, or even some exciting unpublished data, from chatting to people. Who knows, that someone you met at that public lecture series could be your next employer.
General Tips – and finally, remember…
  • Don’t try and do it all yourself. There are so many services on and off campus that can help you, from academic, social, careers to counselling.
Specific tips for someone starting at a different institution
  • Try to immerse yourself in your new University as quickly as possible.
  • Identify anything that might be different to your previous institution in advance to ensure you are fully prepared.
  • Chat to the librarian; postgrads usually have much wider library options. Spend time exploring your university’s intranet, email and PDR systems.
  • Explore your new city/town. Visit a museum, attend a concert or show; do something different! Look for bargains and get to know where student discounts and offers are available.
Specific tips for someone staying at the same university for their postgraduate study
  • Try to avoid old habits. With a new course and new course mates, it would be wise to view it as a new experience, rather than a continuation of undergraduate study.
  • Get involved in the postgrad activities in your department such as research seminars and conferences.
  • It’s never too late to try something else and get involved in the different aspects of student life.

*With many thanks to James (PhD candidate and PG Rep, University of Leeds), Amelia & Emma (Little France Postgrad Soc, University of Edinburgh), Tania (Postgraduate Convenor, Students’ Association St Andrews), Aaron (Postgraduate Students Chair, Union of Brunel Students) Reetika (Postdoctoral researcher, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry) Emma (Drama PhD student, Queen Mary, University of London) and Claudia (MSc student, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) for their contributions to this article.