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Getting Started with a PhD

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In this chapter, a number of first skills that can be useful for a beginning PhD student are revised. A first topic is “familiarizing yourself with your new workplace and your new city”. You will receive tips on how to get settled in your new workplace, and which procedures you need to review with Human Resources and immigration offices. We provide advice on getting to know fellow researchers in other research groups, through lunch lectures and intersectional activities. A next topic is “discussing your mutual expectations with your promotor.” While ideally most PhD students have had a chance to discuss the project and what support their host university can offer, the beginning of your PhD would be a good time to discuss your mutual expectations in more detail. A next topic, called “start documenting your journey”, deals with developing a research journal, a lab book, a log of activities and other documentation that can serve you later on. In this chapter, we will focus on learning how to document work. Following this discussion, comes the topic “figure out your data storage protocol”. A schedule for making backups is also discussed. With a last topic “make a rough outline of your days/weeks”, we will give some first tools for finding a work-life balance, as well as the first concepts of planning and working in harmony with our natural circadian rhythms.


  • Getting started
  • Meetings
  • Administration
  • Planning
  • Data storage
  • Organization
  • Exploring

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  1. 1.

    Meetings between peers. For more information, refer to the glossary in Part II.

  2. 2.

    Admittedly, that sounds as if doing a PhD means you will not have a life. But what I meant is that, once you live a certain amount of time in a city, you simply feel less inclined to go do all the touristy things. So go ahead and have fun while you still see your new city with fresh eyes.

  3. 3.

    Also called: advisor, supervisor.

  4. 4.

    Also called: thesis.

  5. 5.

    Also called: co-supervisor, co-advisor. In the Dutch context, the co-promotor can be your daily supervisor (assistant or associate professor). Until 2018, the promotor had to be a full professor in order to be legally allowed to graduate doctoral candidates, and it is still common practice that the promotor is a full professor. The co-promotor does not have to fulfil this requirement.

  6. 6.

    For us STEM-folks who love tech gadgets (guilty as charged), it’s tempting to download all the planning and list apps and try out everything. You’ll spend more time playing around with the apps than reaping the benefits of these tools.

  7. 7.

    On a Windows machine.

  8. 8.

    It depends on your institution how important these documents are. Some places use your plan as a contract you have to fulfil, others use it as a tool for your planning, and others don’t use it at all.

  9. 9.

    Annual evaluations are typical for universities where PhD candidates are hired as employees.

  10. 10.

    Whenever you need a reminder of why your work matters, which can be important when you are slogging through endless data.

  11. 11.

    Note that cloud folders are not infallible. I’ve had to have my Dropbox repaired/restored twice, and the syncing process after restauration can take a lot of time. For me, it meant limited access to my cloud drive for about a week.

  12. 12.

    Store them at different locations! You don’t want your laptop and all backup drives to get stolen from your car together.

  13. 13.

    Backup your experimental results after each experiment.

  14. 14.

    If you have small children, it may be difficult to exercise at a time that is best for your body. Remember: any workout is better than nothing at all.

  15. 15.

    Again, if you are constrained because of the limitations of childcare, see what you can do. I’m currently exploring home workouts in the evening when my baby sleeps.

  16. 16.

    Even if you are a parent, try to fork out a bit of time for yourself. If you are a single parent, this may be even harder – but remember that a less-stressed mom or dad is more fun for the little ones.

  17. 17.

    As I am wrapping up this book, my routine is different because I have a 5-month old baby. I take time every morning to give her a baby massage, which helps us to relax and connect before I got to work.

  18. 18.

    This limit is different for every person.

  19. 19.

    I’m not giving you a template to fill in here, because I want you to try it out for real right away. Do you use apple devices, then use iCal. If you are on Google and Android – then use Google Calendar. If you don’t like tech gadgets that much, you can make a timesheet in Excel or a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Further Reading and References

  1. University of Leicester. (2016). Formal meetings with your supervisors.

  2. Noordam, B., & Gosling, P. (2006). Mastering your PhD: Running in place.

  3. Lantsoght, E. (2013). Five best practices for getting started with research.

  4. Lantsoght, E. (2014). PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Getting started with working in a research lab.

  5. Vanderkam, L. (2010). 168 hours: You have more time than you think. Portofolio.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Rath, T. (2013). Eat move sleep: How small choices lead to big changes. Missionday.

    Google Scholar 

  7. American Heart Association. (2014). American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults.

  8. Lantsoght, E. (2013). Silver linings: Creating nurturing morning routines.

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Lantsoght, E.O.L. (2018). Getting Started with a PhD. In: The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory. Springer Texts in Education. Springer, Cham.

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