PhD :3 ways to improve your doctoral experience

What is it about a PhD that has doctoral students always complaining about something? Unfortunately, there are still many negative aspects of doing a PhD that are not being talked about. Notwithstanding the great satisfactions and enthusiasm we can feel when achieving our academic goals, the process towards becoming a doctor is full of (avoidable) misfortunes.

One of the main mistakes most PhD students tend to do, though, is something on which we have power: speak out. The Doctoral School at the University of Sussex is running the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey to give you a chance to feedback about what works well and what could be improved for doctoral researchers at Sussex.

You have until the 18th May to fill in the survey, but why not do it NOW? It only takes 10 minutes (I easily took it using my smartphone!). To complete the survey, you’ll need to use the unique link in the reminder sent to your Sussex e-mail address by the Doctoral School on Monday 20th March. In return for your participation, you’ll receive a £5 voucher to spend in any Sussex Food outlet on campus or alternatively you can opt to donate £5 to the University’s Student Hardship Fund.

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On this note, I really believe there are at least 3 ways to improve our well being as Doctoral Researchers. Read more here.

1.Define your working schedule (and stick to it!)

I’ve heard many times the expression “I’m more productive in the morning/evening”. I do not believe one of the two is better, but I found my productivity to have increased a lot since I’ve started treating my PhD as a job. I think what works the best for me is to set an amount of hours per day that I devote only to research/teaching. 9-5, 10-6, it doesn’t matter much for me. What it does matter is to know that I have a limited amount of time to do something and it has to be done by then. If I have something left to do at the end of the day, it’ll wait til the following morning. Most of the time PhD students tend to overload their schedules with impossible tasks and approach their day as a never ending amount of time to be devoted to do everything. This is unhealthy and, in my opinion: counter-productive. Having the feeling that I have 14 hours to do what I have, puts me in the worst procrastinating mood, and I end up doing 1/3 of what I do when defining clear schedules. So: set your working time and stick to it.

2. Work on the relationship with your supervisors from day 1.

Supervision is unfortunately one of the most challenging aspects when doing a PhD. The worst/best part of supervision is that each experience is completely different from the other. You might be extremely lucky from day 1, you can manage to handle everything until something goes wrong, you can just have the worst combination ever, you can be extremely unlucky! This is completely normal, and what you should keep in mind is that from day 1 you are not alone. You also need to be clear from the beginning with them and most of all: don’t be scared of speaking up. You have your rights and obligations and so do supervisors.

We will have a Doctoral Discussion on Supervision in April, so come along if you’d like to hear more on this

3. Stay healthy!

Something that people rarely talk about is the health issues associated with doing a PhD. Firstly, doing sports while doing your PhD is highly advisable. You need to release that stress and most importantly: YOU NEED TO STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK. Sometimes is difficult to understand how obsessed we become with our research, and what a big chunk of our lives research takes. Mental healthiness is IMPORTANT and we should all be talking about it without feeling weird or judged by the society. Trust me, most people doing a PhD have some kind of unhealthy habit or way of thinking. We all become obsessed with research, we all panic on not being good enough, not being smart enough, not having done enough work, not having enough time. We are constantly putting pressure on ourselves. This is wrong, and everyone should be talking about it NOW.

The Postgraduate Research Experience Survey  has a section on wellbeing where you can write any comments on this that you think could be addressed by the Doctoral School.

The Student Life Centre offers a great support to anyone in need and you can approach them with any issue that is troubling your studies.

Last, but not least. As Hive Scholars we are here to offer peer-to-peer support. Contact us and join our Doctoral Discussion series! All the details will be out soon.


Thanks for reading,



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