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Five lessons learned from my first year as a doctoral student

The academic year soon coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on learnings from my first year as a doctoral student.
  1. It’s not like doing another master’s. Unlike as an undergraduate student, now you’re on the academic career track, and that makes a whole lot of difference. The expectations are significantly higher regarding theoretical and methodological matters, and the pressure to get work published makes it a lot more serious.
  2. Getting things done independently is a must. Yes, research is creative work, but the one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration rule applies. It’s good to think that inspiration follows action. Even a better idea is not let a week pass without a meaningful work task progressing. Progress is 100 percent up to you. No one has time or interest to micromanage you. If nothing happens in weeks, it’s you who don’t experience the feeling of achievement, which is the real efficiency booster. Self-leadership is a must. Make a project plan.
  3. Get writing. Write a lot and fast. What you write, you will rewrite over and over again anyway, so there’s no point waiting for the well-formulated ideas and sentences to magically appear on screen. No. The worst case scenario is a blank page. Just write whatever comes to mind. Write the first draft fast. Keep in mind that done is better than perfect, and that working on a draft is easier than starting from scratch. Use notebooks and mindmaps to organize your thoughts. Read about the topics you are interested in, and it’s inevitable you’ll start to feel like saying something about it.
  4. Develop a clear vision about what your doctoral thesis is about. The clearer the research problem and the research questions, the easier it is to align all course assignments, paper drafts and readings with your goal. Draw a picture about your ”North star”, where you’re headed, and prioritize doing things that support that goal.
  5. Share your expertise with the world. Your research topic has value, is relevant and worth sharing. Talk about what you’re up to with people, and not just other doctoral students, and learn to explain your stuff in layman’s terms to make sure it makes sense also outside the scientific context. I have felt that if I kept all the knowledge about my research subject to myself, I might lose the meaning of it, like ending up knowing absolutely everything …about nothing at all. So my advice is to popularize and share from the beginning what you’re digging deep into. You can share even if it’s not ready yet, even if the facts would change later.

The goal for myself for the beginning of my second year: Starting a regular blog to courageously share my developing knowledge, ideas and findings with confidence

Laura Urrila

PhD student
Human Resource Management

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