Prepping for your PhD

Are you starting your PhD this term? If so, you’re right in probably wanting to prep things and get yourself ready for your research. But what can you do that is most useful and effective? In this week’s blog, Ellie explores some of the tasks that will prepare you for your PhD in the best way possible.

By Ellie King

Speak to your Supervisors

Depending on how your came about your PhD, you may have had a good level of contact with your supervisors already. Your supervisors are perhaps the most important people you will work with on your PhD journey, so getting off on the right foot can be really helpful. If you haven’t already spoken in depth, email your supervisors to introduce yourself and share any information that may be helpful to set their expectations (for example where you are living or whether you have childcare responsibilities). It is also useful to propose setting up an introductory meeting for the first week or so of term, and ask them if they have anything specific they’d like you to do or prepare. This way, your energy of wanting to get started can be channelled in the right way.

A girl in graduation robes and mortarboard having a professional photo taken.
My Masters graduation before I started my PhD in October 2019.

Set your Boundaries

A PhD can be an all-encompassing thing that takes over your entire life. You need to set boundaries for yourself, otherwise you can drown in that all-encompassing nature. When I started, I decided that I would regulate my work hours, working a standard 9 to 5 and not doing any work after dinner or at the weekends. Everyone is different so this might not work for you but setting these ideas of when you do and don’t work on your research is really crucial for not becoming overwhelmed with things. Most importantly, decide on these boundaries and stick to them before things get busy. If you start off working all day every day, when things do crank up in busier periods, you won’t be able to handle it.

Organise Yourself

Without the structure of lectures and seminars, conducting PhD research might seem like a humungous, impenetrable task. Whilst it’s important to break things down into manageable workloads, it’s also good to invest some time getting your work procedures and plans in place. For me, this involved getting a notebook: a place to store my constant stream of thoughts I had during research. Work out how you’re going to file things like notes on key readings – do you need to set up folders on your computer or are you more analogue and like to file paper notes. Whatever it is, decide how you’re going to keep things organised early on. If you leave it, you’ll take notes on a load of papers and before you know it your documents will be too unruly to get into an order.

A girl with glasses taking a selfie in front of an old building.
My PhD means I do lots of field work at different museums. Staying organised and creating structure is really important for me.

Lower your expectations

This isn’t meant to be patronising at all, and I’m not saying lower your expectations for your entire PhD. What I mean is, for the first term, recognise what you need to do and set your goals accordingly. You won’t write your entire thesis in the first month, and you won’t find all the answers straight away. That’s not because I don’t think you’re capable, you definitely all are, but simply because of the nature of the PhD. Because it’s about exploring something new, you don’t even know if you’re asking the right questions yet, let alone finding the right answers. Have this be your goal for your first six months: find the questions to your research. Then go from there later on: discovering what methods you’ll use to answer these questions and, way down the line, actually answering them.

A headshot of a girl with ginger hair and glasses.
One of my first tasks in my PhD was getting a photo done for my museum’s website.

Want to read more to prepare you for starting your PhD? Check out Pierre’s post on What I wish I knew when I started my PhD or take a look at our advice for Fitting in as a Research Student.

Are you starting your PhD at Warwick this year? What are you looking forward to most? What are you worried about? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments, on twitter @researchex or by emailing us at

All images: Ellie King.

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