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What you really need to know as you prepare to start your PhD

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Beginning your journey as a postgraduate researcher can be daunting. Whether or not you’re joining us from another University, city or even country, or you’ve been here a while, starting a research degree can feel like you’re starting again; a whole new way of studying and being at university. So, as you prepare embark on yours, we asked some of our PhD students for their top tips to help you prepare and settle, and this is what they told us:

1. Be super organised

Establish a routine and dedicated workspace. You are responsible for the planning and management of your research- and with this comes a LOT of freedom and responsibility. A PhD is like a full-time job, but unlike most other jobs it offers you a tremendous amount of flexibility regarding your approach and schedules as long as you get your work done diligently.

Remember everyone has different working styles – some prefer a ‘set-in-stone’ timetable daily, or at least weekly, while others prefer broad goals instead of a fixed routine. Try and work out which you are and don’t worry how others are working.

Similarly, supervisory approach can also differ- ranging from a very hands-off approach with complete research freedom to more of a ‘guided’ approach- make sure you and your supervisor understand and respect each other’s working style.

2. Ask all the questions, all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn about procedures and administrative aspects; who you’ll need to contact about things like training, holiday, expenses and other forms and support for you and your studies.

3. Network, Network, Network

Build a research network for yourself. Attend and participate research events, conferences, seminars, talks. These events are a great way to build and maintain professional and social relationships. Getting involved in the broader PGR community also gives you the chance to see and hear about other PGR’s perspectives and experiences.

4. Support services are for PGRs too

Your PGR experience should be exciting and rewarding but sometimes things may feel difficult and overwhelming, and you may find yourself facing challenges you have not encountered before. But the University is here to help. Try these PGR focussed resources to support you through the highs and lows of postgraduate research.

These all sit alongside the range of more general student support available to you at the University.

As a PhD researcher the University of Manchester PGR Association (UMPA) and the Students’ Union represent you to the university, and both can be a great source of support and a way to meet fellow researchers.  

The UMPA is a newly set up body within the Students’ Union whose membership consists of all the PGRs enrolled in the University of Manchester. It works with the students’ Union and the University to promote the interests and welfare of all PGR Students, to provide a democratic mechanism for PGR Students to organise and represent themselves collectively. It also provides inclusive social, networking, and recreational activities as well as forums for discussions and debate for PGR Students. To find out more and get involved with the UMPA contact

5. Get involved with life outside your research community

Make sure you have a good work-life balance. Make sure that you get out into Manchester and the adjoining areas, there’s something for everyone ranging from an exciting nightlife (COVID-permitting) to art galleries and museums, libraries, and outstanding natural beauty in the peaks and further away.

The university also offers a diverse range of clubs and societies – it does feel like there’s something for everyone, From the Enterprise club to mountaineering and climbing society, from drama to photography – not to mention the wide range of national and cultural societies.

6. Focus on your own research

This is a big one! Don’t compare your PhD project or progress to other peoples. It’s a huge distraction as no one else’s research can be same as yours. Finding your feet as a researcher can be difficult, and it’s only natural to look around at what everyone else is up to, but really, really try not to.

Imposter syndrome is a common feeling for new PhD researchers, especially as you start your programme and wonder if you can really do it. The answer is yes you can, but give yourself time! Take a look at Frances’ reflection on her 1st year and what she learned. If these are feelings you have, or start to identify with, know you aren’t alone. Read more about finding your identity as a researcher and coping strategies and tips.

7. Expect Change

Rarely do things go exactly as you planned in the beginning! Don’t worry if your project changes as you progress, you will get there. Being prepared to adapt and accept change might just make it a bit easier for you to do so!

Good luck!