Onwards and upwards: preparing to start your PhD

At this time of year, many of you might be starting to think about the next stage in your career, whether that be moving to a new university or starting a new research endeavour. Here, Amy discusses some of the challenges that come with moving to a new city to start a PhD, and some tips for how to deal with them.

Opening the next chapter of any stage of your life can be daunting as well as exciting, and starting your PhD is no exception. I’m currently preparing to start a PhD in the new year, and it’s opened my eyes to the variety of things one needs to consider when making a big life change! From finding housing to organising paperwork and managing nerves, there are so many things to think about, and this can be overwhelming. However, I’ve learned a couple of things along the way to make the whole process a lot smoother – hopefully, they will help you too if you’re in a similar position!

The early bird catches the worm!

For me, there’s nothing worse than the blind panic I get when I realise something I left to the last minute is going to be much more time-intensive than I originally thought. So, when preparing to move to a new city for my PhD, I knew I was going to start early so there would be no danger of this happening! The amount of preparation needed can seem daunting, but taking the first step early on can make even the largest task seem more manageable and give you sufficient time to fix any issues that may arise. On a more serious note, if you are moving abroad for your PhD, things like visas, tuition fees and health insurance will take more time to be processed, so you really do need to sort these out further in advance.

Talk to people who understand your situation

A support network can be invaluable when making any big life change, so having people around you when you’re preparing to start your PhD can be extremely reassuring. Whether this is your family, friends or research group, these people who understand what you’re going through can give advice, help you think of anything you might have missed in your planning, or simply be there to listen while you rant about how stressed you are! Personally, having my research group to give me advice has been especially useful since they have all have the first-hand experience of starting a PhD and know tips and tricks to help make the transition easier.

It might also be worth trying to get in contact with some of the people you’ll be working with throughout your PhD for advice. While your supervisor will be your first port of call for guidance, they may be able to pass your details onto some other members of your new research group, who can give you an insight into the university you’re moving to, details of the local area, and some more concrete ideas on how to prepare for the big move.

Lists are your best friend!

I love a good list, and personally find them to be the best way of keeping organised and managing each task you have to complete. When preparing for a PhD where you will likely be moving to a new city (or even a new country!) there are plenty of things to think about and making lists can really help keep things in perspective. I find it helpful to keep lists that rank tasks by priority, as it allows you to clearly see which jobs need completing first or require more preparation. For example, sorting any paperwork you might be required to submit before you start your PhD is a high priority, so should be completed first. Actually packing for the big move is a lower priority since you won’t need to do this far in advance, but getting together a packing list might be a slightly higher priority as it may take some planning to narrow your choices down, especially if you’re limited on the amount you can transport.

Do your research, but don’t be afraid to ask questions

While it’s probably best not to bombard your PhD supervisor with every question that pops into your head, I’ve found that they are happy to support your move and answer queries to put your mind at ease. That being said, doing your background research when it comes to starting a PhD is vital. Little things like looking into the surrounding areas and places you may like to live, or the average cost of living so you can start to manage your money, can go a long way when trying to calm nerves. University websites also have a plethora of information for new students, which often covers a wide range of topics, from the course itself to finding housing, to giving guidance when registering with a GP.  This can help answer any initial questions before you contact your supervisor for more specific guidance.

It’s okay to panic every once in a while!

Lastly, don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by starting a PhD. After all, it’s a big lifestyle change, so while hopefully, you’ll be most excited for a new adventure, it’s also normal to be a bit scared too! I’ve found parts of preparing for my PhD to be a logistical nightmare, but I always remember that all the stress and planning will be worth it in the end.


Are you starting your PhD soon? Or perhaps you are an experienced PhD researcher who has valuable tips for new doctoral candidates? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.


Amy Kynman earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Warwick in 2018. She is currently working towards a Masters by Research in chemistry, also at the University of Warwick. Her research focusses on the chemical reactivity of rhodium complexes, with the aim of utilising them for carbon-carbon bond forming reaction. Alongside her studies, she is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the University of Warwick’s student newspaper The Boar and aims to eventually undertake a PhD in organometallic chemistry.


Cover image: young-game-match-kids-2923 / breakingpic / CC0 1.0

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