« Read, read, read »
The first thing to do at the beginning of the PhD is to work on the state of the art by reading the bibliography of the PhD topic. « Read, read, read, » as a member of OMI said.
This task should be organized, for example, using a bibliography software such as Zotero and/or a notebook to write down all of the references precisely.
But a member of the CS doctoral school also recommended that this exploration of the state of the art should be used to restrict the dissertation topic: « don’t be too ambitious, you have your all life to do the research you would want to put just in your dissertation! ». A member of MSTIC also considers that one should not spend too much time on this task.
« Write, write, write »
Actually, not only reading, but starting to write things down, is the advice given by several respondents: « Write, write, write », says another member of OMI, who suggests reading Howard Becker’s book on « Writing for Social Scientists« .
The main idea is not to wait for a great revolutionary idea to pop into your head before you start writing something down, even if it is not clearly organized. Not only will this make it easier to start an article, or a chapter of your dissertation, it will also be very useful to have written notes if you need to go back to previous ideas, or work on you dissertation manuscript two years later.
Being organized is important to be efficient. Simple tools like a notebook can help you keep track of your weekly activities. One PhD graduate of MSTIC also finds it useful to make a to-do list or to plan a schedule on a weekly basis (1 hour max).
Some advice is also given regarding computers (« the internet should not be considered as a break ») and planning some holiday without work or computer also seems important to respondents of the MSTIC doctoral school.
Develop your network, and think of the future
The first year is also the right time to start building your scientific network: get yo know other PhD candidates to avoid getting lonely and other researchers to get feedback on your research. Why not plan a research stay abroad during the second year? Research is a wonderful opportunity to meet people by sharing ideas (you’ll see that people are interested in your ideas!) or working on common projects, not only the most important luminaries in your field or your laboratory colleagues, but also people in other research areas.
The people you meet will foster exchanges on scientific matters, but they may also be useful to you after you get your PhD. As a member of CS said, « Start thinking right away about life after your PhD, and how to prepare for it ». This will help you to make choices about publication, what research questions to address, how best to make career plans, etc. Being mindful of these considerations can also motivate you throughout your PhD.
In conclusion, in the words of a member of OMI:
« Keep in mind that doing a PhD is an opportunity that few people have. Use this time to learn, meet people, and remember that uncertainty, liberty and responsibility towards your work are all closely related! »
- some advice if you want to have an academic career after your PhD: Pr. Alan M. Johnson, Charting a course for a successful research career, A Guide for Early Career Researchers, 2nd edition, 2011.