Top Tips for PhD students

By: Haozhi Ma and Lidong Mo

Is a PhD in science worth it? Yes! Read more on why a PhD is important, and even more importantly – our top tips for PhD students at Crowther Lab, ETH Zurich.

Failure is a normal part of the PhD

Remember that you’re still learning! You’re going to get rejection from journals, and sometimes you might end up with bad results from your analyses, but this should motivate you to find better opportunities and become a better scientist. Look at every failure as a chance to do better, because repeating the same thing is a normal part of the process. 

Making plans is important – but expect them to change

Finding structure is going to be critical in the first planning steps of your PhD. It’s so important to make plans, set deadlines, and consider your project in different stages and steps as challenges that can be accomplished. But to that end, allow yourself to change plans. Maybe an important opportunity at a conference pops up, maybe a new experiment becomes available, maybe you discover a new data set. Do not miss opportunities because of your own expectations around deadlines. Which leads us to the next point…

You might need time, and that’s okay!

In our PhDs, we are focused on big data. Our supervisors have always recommended that we take the time to explore data, consider data and work with the data. To that end, we tried to stay flexible and play with the data. You’d be surprised what your brain can uncover when you give yourself some freedom and creativity!

Writing is a big part of your PhD – try to enjoy the process

Do not be rushed into writing – but at the same time, do not be afraid of writing! It’s all a part of the process. Starting your papers might be tough, but taking the time to rewrite is really critical to the learning process.

Additionally, take all the feedback you can get! It might be critical, it might be constructive. It might be tough but it will make you a better writer and a better scientist – and this is the most important part of the scientific process.

Balance your time between hard work, loved ones – and find hobbies! 

You’d be surprised where you find inspiration. We loved spending time in nature this past summer and autumn as our PhD studies ramped up. It brought moments of clarity and helped us power through some particularly tough coding and analytical challenges. Part of the beauty of living in Switzerland!

Be responsible for your work

It makes sense to regard your PhD as work, rather than a continuation of your graduate studies. You’re responsible for your work, your data and your experiments. You’re a professional, and you need to consider the consequences of your decisions as an academic contributing to your chosen field of study.

Moments from a PhD degree: it’s all about the balance. Click on the slider to learn more about each image!