Since I defended I have been thinking about whether I could have done things more efficiently during my PhD program and how I would have done it. I think the answer is “I do have room for improvement” (nobody is perfect!) and it mostly has to do with time management. There are plenty of books out there about how to manage your time, just use the search term “time management” in amazon.ca. Those may be helpful but sometimes it’s the little things that can make big differences.
So here are a few tips for graduate students starting out, actually they may be useful for anybody (most are obvious but should be put into practice):
- Don’t leave what can be done now for later. If you receive a form that needs to be filled out in 5 minutes, fill it out right away, don’t leave it till the day it’s due. You may forget about it or have other critical things to do then that will not allow you to fill that form in. If it’s done it’s done, you can forget about it and move on.
- Use a reference formatting program from the start (like Zotero, Refworks, Mendeley, Endnote, …). This will save time in the long run especially when you’re writing your thesis and your manuscripts. The papers for your thesis will be there, organized, easy to find. It’ll help with formatting in your text as well. Although remember to check your formatting very carefully.
- Make clear note about data collection and methods. I would suggest you type out your protocols from the start as well as you’re doing your data collection or experiments. When you’re collecting data, you think you’ll remember what you did. But the little details will be lost from memory a couple of years into your program. If you’re methods are written out from the start, then you won’t have to worry about writing them out again.
- Get enough sleep. It’ll be hard to make anything work (experiments, lab work, writing) if your brain is tired. So if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere: Stop, Rest (a nap may do it) and Start again.
- Have a hobby or do some physical activity. I mentioned this in a previous post because I believe if you can take a short break from your project, you may be able to see it in a different light. (I’m sure you’ve notices that this post relates to point 4)
I won’t say when it’s best to work because that varies from person to person and even changes during the yearly cycle for a person. E.g. If you do your best writing work at night, then do that; if lab work is good during the day, then do that too.
I guess my tips are really to help you save time and be as efficient with your time so that you can enjoy every step of the process and not feel too stressed about deadlines.