Prepare for Doctoral Success – A New Online Course

banner-prepare-for-doctoral-successPrepare for Doctoral Success is a 4-week, interactive course for all doctoral researchers at the University of Edinburgh. Starting a doctorate is a very exciting time, but it can also be difficult to know where to start. This course aims to help you settle in by sharing essential information, tips and advice and giving you an opportunity to interact with other students at the same stage. The course is structured as follows:

Week 1: Getting to know you – this is to introduce you to the course and other participants

Week 2: Starting out – the essential information and expectations

Week 3: The first year- milestones, planning and skills development

Week 4: Working with your supervisor – hints and tips, expectations and supervisor styles

The course is hosted in Learn and you can find out more and book a place here

The Finals: 3 Minute Thesis

Ni3 minute Thesis logone Edinburgh PhD students are hoping to make their mark in a global competition aimed at improving communications skills.

Students from each of the University’s three colleges will take part in the Edinburgh final of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) contest on Wednesday, 24 July.

The event will be streamed live.

The student who delivers the best research presentation in three minutes will go through to an international Grand Final, which is open to students studying at institutions that are part of Universitas 21.

Further information about the 3 Minute Thesis:

New Faces at the Institute for Academic Development (IAD)

LeavesThere have been a few staff changes within the IAD Doctoral Programme we thought you would like to know about,

Fiona McCabe left post in December and Louise McKay was appointed to her post in February.

I’d like to introduce myself as the new Doctoral Training Manager for the IAD. I join the IAD from the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at the Western General Hospital, where I worked for 5 years as a Programme Administrator, setting up courses and seminars relating to clinical research. Previous to that I have worked for NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council. I look forward to working with the IAD and welcome any suggestions you have in order to provide the best possible Doctoral Training Programme.

Dr Fiona Philippi was appointed to the post of Deputy Head of Researcher Development in February.

Hi, I have recently joined the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) in the role of Deputy Head of Researcher Development. My role is quite wide-ranging and focuses on enhancing and developing support and resources for researchers at all stages. I am a strong believer in recognising that a PhD encompasses a great deal more than writing a thesis (although of course this is a big part!). PhD researchers have much to offer in terms of transferable skills both in academic posts and in a whole range of other sectors. Often though, the challenge is being able to communicate this effectively!

One of the most useful training courses I did during my PhD was on presentation skills. At the beginning it felt like the facilitator was being quite ruthless – we sat and watched our own videoed presentations with a group of complete strangers from other disciplines and then discussed the strengths and weaknesses. However, it actually proved to be extremely useful and some of the tips and lessons learned I have carried with me to this day and used in a wide variety of settings.

Support for PhD researchers has developed considerably over the past few years and initiatives such as the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) are very useful tools to help researchers take control of their own progress and career path. It is all too easy to get caught up in getting through your PhD, but taking advantage of the training and skills development resources on offer can give you a different perspective and should prove helpful in the long run!

Summer is here, how do you keep working?

So, when the sun suddenly appears and your friends invite you out to enjoy it how do you manage to enjoy the sun and not get behind with your work? Here are some things to think about which may help you:

  • Work in the morning if you can. This means that by the time the sun gets hot and your friends invite you out you’ve already done a substantial amount of work and don’t need to feel guilty for leaving for the afternoon.
  • If you do go out, look after yourself. A hangover or sunburn will make working the following day all the more unproductive.
  • It is ok to take a break and get some sun but don’t feel pressured to stay out if you need to get back to the office/lab.
  • Have an ‘essential work’ list and a rough estimate of how long each item will take so that if you get invited to do something unexpectedly like ‘lets go camping this weekend’ you know if you can manage to fit in the essential work in the time that you have available or not.
  • Ensure you are working somewhere comfortable. If you office gets super hot in the sun, and it isn’t essential that you work there, go somewhere else. You will be more productive that way.

Other than that, enjoy the sun and don’t feel guilty, its not here that oftern 🙂


(Doctoral Training Manager at IAD)

The PhD Cycle

So, if the PhD is a process made up of initiating and ‘hopefully’ completing smaller tasks then it is reasonable to expect that this process will have an emotional impact depending on which stage you are at and the outcome of your current task. And this is perfectly normal.

PhD Cycles

The diagram tries to show that everything in the PhD cycle involves thinking and writing about your PhD and within that overall cycle there is a smaller process of initiating, scoping, focus forming, implementing, completing and reviewing tasks. At each of these stages there may be a vast variety of emotions involved.

There are some things which you can do to try to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive.

  • Use SMART goals to help you to manage your work load. These are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based. If you put goals in place which follow this formula then you are more likely to succeed and feel less afraid of the marathon task ahead of you.
  • Remember to review outcomes of different tasks. It is all too easy to rush from task to tasks without taking the time to review. The value of this is in seeing what you can learn for next time and celebrating success.
  • Read my previous post about time management

Thinking about careers

In my experience, when it comes to careers, PhD students tend to fall into 3 camps: those who definately want to be an academic, those who definately want to do something else, and those who haven’t got a clue. So the real question is if you’re in category 2 or 3, how do you decide what to do?

Well, firstly, it might be useful to do a skills audit to help you to identify what skills you have and how to put these down in your CV. The IAD website has some guidance and a template to help you get started with this: Skills Audit

Secondly, seek help from the Careers Service, particularly if you fall into camp number 2 and you know what that ‘something else’ is. For University of Edinburgh students, and alumni within 2 years of graduation, you can find more information at the Careers Service website. 

Thirdly, no matter what camp you fall into, consider attending a Reviewing Your Career workshop. There is a variety of information and courses available on the Doctoral section of the IAD website.

And remember, there are people all around you with interesting career stories so make time to ask people how they got to where they are now.

Next post: Procrastination and getting un-stuck…coming soon!

Fiona (Doctoral Training Manager, IAD)

Tips for Effective Networking

The term networking can conjure all sorts of images for people, but the truth of it is that networks provide you with colleagues to discuss your research ideas, potential collaborators, peer support to get you through the tough times, and contacts to help you find future jobs. So you might as well make the most of the potential contacts around you. Here are our top tips:

  1. Have your contact information available to give people – consider having business cards ready.
  2. Be aware of your body language – if you are, like me, someone who doesn’t find networking very easy, this can sometimes mean that your body language will give you away, even without you being aware of it. So if you are at an event, make an effort to stand up tall, smile and make eye contact.
  3. Have a plan – if you are attending a conference, try to get hold of a delegates list before the event so that you know who you want to make contact with while you are there.
  4. Have a question ready to get conversation flowing.
  5. Split up – force yourself to leave the comfort of your friends group and make new contacts.
  6. Go for it…if you are at an event or conference, thats what you are there for.
  7. Have a strategy ready for how to leave a conversation.
  8. Keep a note of interesting people or ideas to follow up on afterwards.
  9. Networking can happen anytime (not just at events) so be sociable.
  10. Don’t leave an event too early.

For more information and suggestions on where to get started, look at the Networks and Forums pages on the IAD website.

Next post: Thinking about careers…coming soon!

Fiona (Doctoral Training Manager, IAD)

Working with your Supervisor

Your relationship with your supervisor can be one of the most important sources of support during your PhD, so it is important to make sure that the relationship is worksing well for you, and for them.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Know how you like to work – so that you can let them know (e.g. I work best in the mornings so could we try to arrange our meetings for before lunch?)
  2. Have a plan. Your supervisor is probably a very busy person so make the most of their time by being prepared for your meetings with them.
  3. Keep a log of your meetings so that you have a record of what was discussed and what you (and they) agreed to.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something – better to ask now that look silly later.
  5. Only give your supervisor work which if ready…they don’t have time to read multiple drafts.

Next post: Effective Networking

Fiona (Doctoral Training Manager)