Written by Joanna Hughes

The new year is upon us, which means so are new year’s resolutions. Whether 2018 was full of blessings or you’re happy it is in the rearview mirror, 2019 is a clean slate -- one that’s full of potential. Hoping to make the best of it as a PhD student? Prioritize these five tasks to get the year off to a promising start.

1. Reevaluate your goals (and whether you’re on track to reach them).

A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. But how do you know whether you’re progressing on schedule if you don’t stop to assess where you are every now and then? 

Of her commitment to sharing her list of goals with her advisor in her first semester and reviewing it regularly, PhD student Melissa Boone writes, “Goals are like the grand to-do list; they keep you on track with all of the requirements AND the unspoken expectations of you as a doctoral student. Plus, you show your advisor early on that you are taking charge of your career, and that will impress them.”

2. Build time off into your schedule.

If you are entering the new year raring to go with your research, you are also putting yourself in danger of a common PhD problem: burnout. Rather than charging into 2019 at top speed, pace yourself.

This starts with arranging your schedule to include critical downtime. From taking a yoga class to having coffee with a friend, these activities are not a waste of time, they are an investment in your health, wellness, and ability to sustain the rigorous PhD pace.

3. Think about starting a company.

While this one isn’t for everyone, it’s an exciting option for many PhD students -- especially given academia’s incredibly tight job market.

Isaiah Hankel writes in The Guardian, “Never forget that you're an innovator – a creator. Refuse to become dependent on the system you're in. Too many postgraduates are trained to think that there is only one way to secure a paycheck every month. So they settle for full-time research scientist positions or mid-level jobs in corporate R&D departments without ever taking on anything else. [...] Scientists make great entrepreneurs. Very few people get the chance to be trained specifically in innovation. But you do. Use this to your advantage.”

A different way of thinking about it?  Why work for someone else when you can work for yourself? Plus, what PhD student wouldn’t be happy to create a new stream of income? All of this is possible when you start a company while still in graduate school.

4. Attend a conference.

Whether you love them or hate them, there is no denying that conferences add value to a PhD student's personal and professional life.

Unfortunately, many graduate students are so busy with research and fieldwork that they think they can’t afford to get away. The reality is that time is never going to make itself. Choose one or two big conferences in your field and commit to attending it. Your work will still be waiting for you when the conference is over, but you will return home with winning combination of confidence and contacts -- both of which can help you succeed as a PhD student as well as in your career.

5. Enjoy the moment. (No, really!)

Okay, so when you hear the word 'PhD', fun may not exactly be the first thing that comes to mind. But the truth is that your PhD years are special in their own way. Stopping to smell the proverbial flowers every once in a while can help you appreciate this unique time in your life.

Doctoral student Samantha Jones said of her resolution to focus more on the present during her grad school days, “It’s all too easy to forget the many wonderful things happening around me. Yes, I’ll need to work hard to prepare for the future, but I don't want to miss out by not enjoying these remaining, albeit intense, moments as a graduate student. Staying present will also mean trying to keep an open mind when it comes to my career, knowing that it’s OK to change my mind and maybe head in a direction that leads me to a job I don’t expect.”

Are you ready to have your best year yet as a PhD student? These five tips can help you make the most of your studies without losing sight of the big picture. Wishing you a happy, healthy, and productive 2019! 

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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