Last July I attended my first big conference as a PhD-student. I’ve been to large conferences before, but only as a student with little experience. This time I was going to tell the world about the research I’ve been spending more than two years on, so I was really excited. A big plus side was that the conference was of the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR.org). Since my research focuses on an online friendship enrichment program for people aged 50 and older you can image I was looking forward to it, because the topic was very relevant.
The conference was really nice, and I got nice response to my presentation. But what really got me thinking during the conference, and what I want to share with you in this blog, are some very useful PhD-career tips. These are tips and advise me and other new scholars got from experts in the field during a ‘New Scholars Networking and Mentoring Luncheon’. This meeting was specifically for new researchers in the field, so mainly PhD-students. It provided both a nice opportunity to meet some fellow graduate students as well as obtaining some great advice from the old hands in the field.
The experts were asked by the chair what was the best advice they had gotten when they were still graduate students, and then to give us some advice. I heard some great things during the lunch meeting and will list my favorite advices here (in my own words):
- Maintain your standards – don’t lower them!
- In relation to the previous advice: It’s better to have three good publications than a lot of half quality ones.
- Dare to say no – you don’t have to do all the things you are asked, it really is okay to say no from time to time
- Don’t strategize too much, you can’t plan everything
- Think about your definition of productivity – is it realistic? Or do you expect too much out of one day?
- Don’t take reviews personal – just keep going (see them as free feedback from the best experts in your field!)
- Focusing on your number of publications is counterproductive –focus on the quality
- Everybody’s career is different, it differs in pace and other things, so don’t compare yourself to other graduate students (or staff-members) all the time.
- Collaborate with people whose research is similar and who got grants and have good publications
- Try not to overwhelm yourself with data. You probably can do many more analyses, but you need to start writing! (author’s note: I know this to be my own pitfall)
- Drawing your own course can be scary but probably it is worth it and it will most likely pay off.
- A paper has to be a story about the dependent variable – so if you’re stuck, try to think of it as a story and try to see where the elements are missing.
- What’s the big picture? Keep that in mind – always!
- Writing academic papers is a craft. You’ll get better at it over the years. (author’s note: here is a great blog about thinking of academic writing as a craft)
- Find your best 4-5 hours in a day and use those to write or do what is most important at that time.
- Have a writing day each week, maybe even at home. But keep one day a week for just writing, so no appointments, no e-mail etc.
Some of these advices really hit me like a train and I try to keep them in mind while struggling with my current paper. I sometimes tend to get involved in too many things at once, so since I came back from Australia I tried to decide more consciously which things I should get involved in. I did deliberately say no to some requests when I got back. Furthermore, my own favorite advice was to keep in mind that writing academic papers is a craft, it’s a learning process and by doing it a lot I will get better at it. I hope some of these advices might be of use for you as well!
Finally, my own advice: make sure you join as many of these new scholar events at conferences as you can. Look for descriptions as the one above in the conference program. Or you could even consider to get involved in the organization if it is a conference you are attending more than once!
Tamara Bouwman MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Sociology. Her research project is about developing and testing a multifaceted, web-based, friendship program for adults aged 50 years.