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My PhD journey:

Seven things I would do differently

1. Use a beginner-friendly bibliography tool

Whether it's Endnote, Mendeley or Citavi, acquiring on a bibliography tool as early as your first year is a wise decision. Keep track of quotes and general ideas of the articles and books you have read in the annotation or abstract sections of your tool. Use a tool that only allows you to produce a bibliography of only those sources that you have cited. Take a foundational course on the tool of your choice. Otherwise you risk having scraps of paper with notes everywhere and losing track of where to find what.

2. Realise that a thorough literature review takes time

My PhD (in the humanities) is an interdisciplinary project that combines several approaches from literary studies and the social sciences. The fields within my project have been widely researched on so that trying to get a glimpse of the state of the art required a lot of time and a lot of wide reading. If you are faced with the same fate, don't fret. Take your time to navigate the fields in order to get a precise idea about what is out there and what you are adding to the debate.

3. Treat the PhD as a job, not as a hobby!

I have always been passionate about the topic of my dissertation and certainly enjoyed every 'aha!' moment of research. May be that is why it was so easy to mistake my research work for a hobby rather than a job. I certainly wished I had started treating my PhD as a job early during my journey. You know, like scheduling working hours during the day that I actually adhered to. Instead procrastination got the best of me and I found myself in the habit of working more in the evenings and over the weekend.

4. Realise that there is such as a thing as a research culture

The traditional PhD track offered by most German universities does not offer a curriculum. You are expected to be an independent researcher that designs your own project timeline and curriculum. You are also expected to plan ways of acquiring additional skills such as project and time management etc. What seems like a doorway to freedom and flexibility of working time is actually a Goliath task, to say the least. If you find yourself being thrown in the deep-end, I recommend getting in touch with information centres for graduate students at your university. Do not do it all on your own.

5. Take a course in academic writing

This also applies to those writing in their native language. Despite being a good essay-writer and course-work writer during my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, making a case for my argument on over 200 pages of A4 paper made visible my limits as far as academic writing is concerned. Proofreading by friends, peers and colleagues will only go a long way. At the end of the day, you want to make sure that you can put on paper what you want to say and do so in a precise, logical and coherent way. Taking a course in academic writing tailor-made for PhDs might be the extra help you need to make academic writing less of an uphill task.

6. Ask for help more often

Are you stuck with an article or a book that is relevant to your research but makes for an inaccessible read? Are you stuck with a new thought that is interesting for your research but you do not seem to know how to make it applicable? Would you like to have a section of your chapter proof-read before submitting it to your supervisor? Ask for help. Talk to colleagues, speak to your supervisor, speak to other faculty members. Again do not do it all on your own if you can find help. Sometimes talking to someone familiar to your field can give you a clearer vision of what to do with the new thought that crossed your mind while writing.

7. Enjoy the journey

What is more exciting than getting to do what you love to do? Granted, there is the dark side of academia that is, the overwhelming weight of the uncertainty about one's career. But let this feeling not deter you from acquiring the additional skills, networking with some of the most amazing scholars and human beings all over the world, travelling to different countries to present your work and crafting something new, something innovative for your field of research.

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