Top Tips for the First Year of a PhD

Having shared in my last entry some of my top tips to survive PhD progression, I thought I would use this, my final post, to share some of my top tips for making the most of the first year of your PhD more generally. While not an exhaustive list, I would suggest that you:

Build your Networks

Really use the first year of your PhD to build your networks. You never know what opportunities could stem from even just getting to know the other postgraduate researchers at your university, although it is also good to look further afield! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

Get Writing

Start writing from the off. Even if what you write in the early stages doesn’t make it into your final PhD, which is really quite likely to be the case, writing is thinking so it’s still worthwhile. Related to this, consider investing in reference management software. I’ve personally found EndNote to be the most affordable and user-friendly but, if you don’t want to have to pay or install anything on your computer, it’s quite common nowadays for universities to subscribe to online tools that are completely free to registered students.

Manage Expectations

The point of a PhD is for you to become a competent researcher, not to start out as one.  This is so important to keep in mind. If you expect too much of yourself too soon, you will quickly become demotivated and demoralised and this is not at all conducive to progress with your work!


Right from the start, we’re encouraged to be mindful of the end of our PhDs and what we aspire to do in our ‘postdoctoral years’. I myself have advocated in previous posts the value of looking to the future but I’ve also stressed the importance of making the most of the here and now and I thought this worth reiterating as a final point here. As much as it’s a cliché, you really won’t believe how quickly your time as a research student will pass so do try to enjoy it while it lasts.

I hope that you have been able to take something useful from my PhD journey as it has progressed over the course of my first year. Good luck with your own journeys and remain open to wherever they may take you!


About Emma Allen

In September 2015, I started a PhD funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) investigating the international law implications of climate change for a number of small low-lying island states located in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. This blog provides an insight into the first year of my PhD journey!

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