In the past 2 years as a Ph.D. student, I have learned more about education, specifically special education, than in the 11 years I was an educator. It has, however, been 2 of the hardest years so far in my career. Reading and writing consumes every minute of your day (you even dream about it, wake up in the middle of the night to write down ideas, and listen to audiobooks in your car), things that you thought were important during your time in the schools barely become a passing thought, and sleep is practically non-existent. I am here to tell you though it is the best decision I have made and I am thankful for every learning opportunity. In order to support new doctoral students, the purpose of this blog post is to share a few tips that helped make me through the first few years in academia. #1: Let technology help you. Don’t reinvent the wheel and make work harder for yourself. Be sure to download article summary extensions, use MyBib to create your references, download digital textbooks to be able to use the CTRL+F or “find” feature in texts, and find a website such as PaperPile to organize all your PDFs and articles. It will be impossible to carry everything with you, especially traveling to conferences. Digital is key. Be sure to also buy a tablet with a stylus and embedded notes and reading features for articles such as an iPad, Galaxy tablet, etc. This will save you hundreds of dollars in ink over time. It is worth the cost! #2: Take care of yourself. Eat right, get sleep, and work out. No matter how amazing you want the presentation, assignment, or article to be, the lack of self-care was deteriorating my health long-term. I gained weight, was barely functioning in interactions with family and friends, migraines increased, resting heart rate steadily increased over time, my hair began to break easily, and I practically started craving natural sunlight at one point. Go for walk every day, skip the fast food and pack a lunch, and take power naps! Thomas Frank, one of my favorite YouTube subscriptions has some of the best tips in productivity including health in higher education. #3: Find a doctoral BFF. You will need support and someone to vent to. No one will understand what you going through and trying to explain the interworkings to even your spouse is near impossible. Trust is sometimes hard to find in academia since there tends to be a lot of competition, but always remember there is enough research out there for the rest of your life. Don’t fixate on the small things, keep your academic relationships 100% drama free, and find a go-to person with the same niche to bounce ideas off of. Your doctoral BFF is someone that gets you. It is someone you can work, present, research, and travel with and it will make your first few years so much easier! #4: Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Being a type-A person, this was difficult for me. I wanted every first draft and each individual sentence to be perfect, hence the loss of sleep, but in academia the perfect sentence can be written in 10 different ways “perfectly” depending on the person reading your work and there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. Just write the facts, turn it in, and work on perfecting closer to the editing phase. Turning in work in Ph.D. programs are typically a small piece of a larger project that is typically an ever-changing and fluid process that will take months to complete. Perfectionists though, on the back end, make excellent writers which is key to long-term success in publications. #5: Network, but building relationships is more important. Networking in any business or when searching for a job is key, however, many Ph.D. students, including myself early on, made the mistake of not following through with networking commitments and I lost out on opportunities. In the past year, I have learned to save every business card in a card binder sleeve within a notebook and be sure to write on the back of the card the date, location/conference, and the topic we talked about. This will help you have a reference to refer back to later because you will meet lots of new people that will each help you in different ways! If you are a Ph.D. student I hope these help you in some way and if you are in higher education, I hope you can take these back to your upcoming doctoral students as first-hand experience in the current academic market. If you are struggling, would like some more tips, or need support in any way please feel free to reach out anytime!
I WHOLE-HEARTEDLY agree with #3!!! (Well, all of them, but #3 in particular!) My Ph.D. BFF has listened to me cry, traveled with me, bought me coffee, talked with me for hours via Zoom, let me sleep on her couch, and build a wealth of memories. I can’t wait to start our lives as “Doctor BFFs).