Reflections of a PhD Student: Three months in

In her final review, Emily shares her PhD thoughts from December. Read the New Year’s Resolutions she is setting for a successful year for her and her PhD!

By Emily Alger.

It’s a new year and a new start for me and my PhD. Though I began my PhD back in October, I consider 2023 the year my work truly begins. The first three months have gone quickly but I don’t feel like I have much work to my name. I think it’s easy to jump into a PhD with ambitions of writing showstopping papers. However, settling in, gaining confidence and just getting the basics down is hard enough! Here are some New Year’s Resolutions I have for my own PhD.

Accept that some days you will make no progress

During my induction, academics told me that a PhD is like a rollercoaster – ups and downs. They also mentioned something called “the cloud”, presented by physicist Uri Alon in a TED Talk he presented in 2013. Some days you may make no progress. A technique you have spent a whole week reading about may not work, your analysis may not be interesting, and you might not know where to turn to next. PhDs aren’t as easy as following A to B, you’ve been hired as a PhD student because what you’re looking at currently has no answers. I didn’t realise I would be in the cloud so early on in my PhD. It can be frustrating to read papers and look into new techniques with no real idea of how to adapt it to your data, but it is something every PhD student feels. When face-to-face with the cloud it can be intimidating, but Alon is great at presenting the cloud as an opportunity to make a real discovery. Being in the unknown means that no one has done your work before. No matter how you find your days in the cloud, remember you’re on the verge of a significant contribution to the field. Don’t be hard on yourself and know that a day in the cloud is still a day well spent.

Read one paper a day

A girl with blonde hair and a striped top standing in-between two bookshelves reaching up to take a book. There is another girl in the background doing the same.
The library is home to thousands of books, both physical and online. There’s a wealth of knowledge waiting to be read. Image: University of Warwick.

Having talked with other friends currently studying for PhDs, I know routine, discipline and persistence are the hallmarks of any good PhD student. That’s certainly something I could work on. I consider myself a 9-5pm student but with the lack of lecturers and problem sheets to keep me disciplined, I think it’s time to start introducing some real structure to my day. Whilst a PhD student within clinical trials, I want to diversify my learning and keep discovering. The knowledge in academia is so vast I wish I could stay afloat. I have recently thought about increasing my paper consumption and one technique I hope to incorporate into my working day is a reading hour. Every day I plan to read one paper on any field I like, whether obviously relevant to my PhD or not, and then choose the next paper to read for the day after.

Don’t compare, just improve

I recently returned to Warwick for a week-long statistics course and I had the chance to meet other talented first-year PhD Statisticians. It is so easy to compare your PhD to others and make assumptions about the type of work they are doing and opportunities they have. This year I aim to continue to build my PhD network and learn as much as possible from my fellow PhD students about techniques they are using and courses they are attending. PhDs are mouldable and this year I really want to incorporate as many of my strengths as possible into my PhD research.

Two girls with brown hair sitting behind a desk and chatting. There is a laptop and calculator on the desk.
PhD’s can be very isolating, so it’s important to work with your peers when you can. Image: University of Warwick.
An autumn tree above a pavement. There is a person sitting on a bench and some bikes in the background.

Like my two previous blogs, I’ll be answering the following three questions for the final time. Read back over my previous two blogs from November and October if you’d like to see how my perspective has changed.

One: How are you feeling about your PhD?

I feel encouraged that this year I can begin to make mark on my PhD and thesis. I’m only three months in but I feel motivated and ready to get stuck in!

Two: How are you settling into your new home?

I am still finding hybrid working challenging. I am hoping to start this year afresh and move into a new room when my tenancy is up.

Three: What do you want to improve by next month?

By next month I hope to implement my New Year’s resolutions. I also want to create a new motivating daily routine which I can stick to for the months to come.

This is my final monthly review for my PhD, I have really enjoyed reviewing my own progress in these blogs. I hope you have found it a useful companion to your own PhD journey or a useful perspective if you are soon to apply!

If you want to read more experiences of our research bloggers, then head over to the Your Experiences section of the website. If you feel like you have something you’d like to share with our readers, we welcome guest writers to the PhD Life blog. Get in touch with editor Ellie at to find out more.

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for your PhD? Let us know on Twitter @researchex, by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or by dropping us an email at

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