I’m joining a panel of students to talk about ‘Our Postgraduate Journey,’ at 4.30pm today in room B28 (underneath the general library) at the University of Auckland city campus.
Before I head in, I thought I would throw together a post with some quick tips. Feel free to ask more question is the comments, or tweet to me @TomSaundersNZ.
1. Understand the commitment.
Make sure you’re doing a PhD for the right reasons, because during this time:
- You will be foregoing the opportunity to earn a decent salary to kickstart those life goals you may have (travel, marriage, kids, house, etc).
- You will constantly be thinking about your project and the stresses it brings.
- You will need to balance your project with your relationship, friends, family, and all your other commitments.
- If you are in a relationship, make sure your partner is aware of the sacrifices you will both be making before you start.
2. Budgeting will save you.
Even with a scholarship you’re effectively earning minimum wage. There are some great tips out there for managing money – Dave Ramsay, Mr Money Moustache, The Happy Saver, The Smart & Lazy, just to name a few. For everyday money management:
- Setting up a spreadsheet to track your weekly income and expenses doesn’t take much time – grab a free template online. Include everything, and break up monthly or annual expenses into weekly costs.
- Set up multiple everyday accounts named after categories on your budget, and make sure any income is deposited into an on-call account. Have a savings account for an emergency fund.
- Set up automatic payments to send money out of your on-call account into your everyday accounts depending on your budget. Set up an AP to move some money into your card-linked account for regular expenses too.
- Set up APs for as many bill payments as possible – these can come out of a joint account if you have a partner or flatmate. Makes it alot easier to stay on top of regular bills. You should be able to sit back and let APs handle most of your money.
- Any money you can save each week goes straight out of your main bank into a separate online account with higher interest (I use a ‘noticesaver’ account at Rabodirect), or use it to pay off interest-bearing debt.
- Also – get rid of credit cards!
3. Get a side income.
Doesn’t have to be ‘a job’, just has to generate income.
- Most scholarships are not taxable income, so anything else you earn up to $14k per year is taxed at 10.5%. Take advantage of this and work a few hours on the side (but remember some scholarships put limits on how many hours per week you can work).
- Tutoring, caregiving, lab/field assistant positions all work well.
- Can you leverage a skill such as photography? Does your PhD make you an expert in something you can consult for?
- Alternatively, seek out scholarships and extra funding from UoA, UniversitiesNZ, businesses, Crown Research Institutes, etc.
4. Embrace failure.
Your experiments won’t work, your results probably won’t be what you expect, your study animals will die, months of work may be wasted. This is all normal and it happens to everyone. The most important thing you can do in return is to seek help:
- Go to as many induction days and library workshops that are relevant to you. They provide great information and the opportunity to ask questions.
- For project issues start with your supervisor. If they can’t help you, ask them for some recommendations (e.g. Who can I go to for help with statistics? Who can show me how to use this equipment? Who can help me to find some study sites?).
- For mental/emotional support, check out the counselling services at the University – students get a few sessions there free. Also try to meet up with labmates or other students semi-regularly to share war stories and support.
5. Identify areas you need training in.
- Computer skills are going to be your bread and butter. If you aren’t confident with MS Office apps like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, then get some free (or almost free) training online. You also need to know how to search databases properly, otherwise you’ll always have to wade through thousands of irrelevant results (or way too few).
- Statistics are important for pretty much everything – seek out training any way you can. Ask about methods that are relevant to your field.
- Maybe you’ll need to be able to drive a manual transmission vehicle at some point in your career, maybe you’d like to be able to administer first aid, maybe you want to improve your public speaking skills. Now is the time to learn and have a go – sometimes you can get free training through the university, or they might help to cover the cost.
6. Create your personal brand. Yes – it sounds like vapid business-speak, but Kiwis are terrible at self-promotion so a little bit of effort goes a long way:
- Create a personal website: Start basic with a free wordpress site. Use it to describe your academic interests, achievements, publications, awards, etc. After a while, consider a full-fledged ‘self-hosted’ site with your own domain name.
- Consider writing a blog. It’s a good way to experiment with different writing styles, and to become known as an expert in a certain topic.
- Use social media for academic purposes – join academic conversations on twitter, show your expertise, be a go-to person for updates on a particular topic relevant to your research.
- Sign up for, and update academic profiles when appropriate: UoA Research Outputs, ORCID, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Scopus ID, etc.
7. Drive some media coverage. Always talk to your supervisor first! You might want to approach the university media relations, or media outlets directly, with ideas for stories. But remember to think like a journalist:
- Is this new or interesting? Does it touch an emotion or evoke a response? What is the best angle for the story?
- Have you written a press release that can be picked up? Are there some great images to go with it?
- Do you look like you know what you’re talking about?
- You could write a blog post and then pitch it to the media, or you could get involved in conversations happening on social media.
- Media can be a double-edged sword. Be very careful about what you say and of course talk to your supervisor first!
8. Make technology work for you!
- Use a decent reference manager – you will be reading too many papers to waste time with Endnote, trust me. Zotero is my favourite, but Mendeley is great too.
- Use multiple monitors, and learn how to snap windows to different parts of your screen to make the best use of space.
- Use a service like google scholar to set up citation alerts to notify you of new papers that match your criteria.
So there are some quick thoughts from me. Hopefully theres something in there you can use. What other tips would you suggest? Got any follow-up questions? Hit up the comments or tweet to me @TomSaundersNZ.