By: Dr. Mercedes Gómez-López

 We here at The PhD Proofreaders invited Dr. Gómez-López to share her advice for new PhD students. This article is based on a viral twitter thread they published. 

It has been two years since I successfully completed my PhD. Looking back, there are many things I wish I’d known before starting it, which would have helped me to make the most of the experience. So I want to use this opportunity to share my advice for new PhD students. 


Doing a PhD is not easy and takes years of effort and dedication


At first, you will probably not quite understand what you must do. Take it easy. You don’t want to learn everything at once. You have a lot to learn, and you are not going to do it in a day, a week or a month (or even a year). Knowledge is not acquired quickly. So my first piece of advice for new PhD students is this: patience and perseverance are your greatest allies.


Your supervisor is an essential part of the process


They can help you spread your wings or cut them. If you can, think carefully and explore your options before you start. This will be one of the most important relationships you will have during these years, and maybe during the subsequent. Choose someone who is kind, empathetic and wants to help you achieve your goals and lifts you up.

If that person is not that person, find another one. You are under no obligation to stay there. If you can’t or won’t find someone else, be honest and assertively explain how you feel. Discuss each other’s expectations and try to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. If you don’t get any change, visualizing your goal and focusing on it will help you not forget why you are doing what you do.

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You Deserve To Be Treated With Respect


It’s great that you feel grateful for the opportunity, but you are producing for that institution, that research group or that company. Don’t forget that. You are learning, but you are also working. Value yourself, you deserve the same respect and consideration as anyone else




In academia, informal aspects are sometimes as important as formal ones. It is not enough just to know how to write a scientific paper. Networking is essential. Be smart, but also kind, honest and humble.


Don’t go it alone 


Find a group of people, however small, who are in the same situation and understand and support you. They will be your lifeline more times than you think. Don’t go it alone. That support is so important that sometimes it’s what keeps you there.

Share your academic life with your loved ones. Explain to them what you do and why. Give them time, it’s difficult to understand how academia works. Don’t worry, they will get it.


Your PhD Thesis.
On one page.

Use our free PhD Structure Template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.

It Won’t Always Be Easy

You will go through bad times. You will want to quit. You may wonder why you are doing this. It happens to all of us. Hang in there. Those moments will pass, and better ones will come. They are part of the process and help you grow. Don’t fight with them, instead think about what they can teach you. The PhD can be rough, but it will eventually end. Think that many people have made it, why shouldn’t you?

Even so, it is perfectly valid that you want to quit. If you really want to do it, do it; you’ll find your way. But before you make that decision, think about your reasons. Don’t quit because you are afraid or think you are not capable, because you are. Never doubt it: you can do it.


It’ll Come Together Quickly


As a good friend told me once, the PhD is like a puzzle and eventually, the pieces fit together. It may take a while for that to happen, but it ends up happening. There will be periods when you will advance a lot and others when you will advance little. It’s normal. Relax.


Talk About Your Research


Go to conferences. Speak in public. Present your research to the scientific community. Meet people. It’s scary at first but fear fades with practice. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. We all do it, and that’s okay. Next time you will do better.


Take the time to learn


Be patient. Go at your own pace. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Everyone is different, has a different life, different resources and different qualities. Don’t want to be like anyone else. Be yourself.


Be Proud. Now. 


Be proud from the beginning, what you are doing or going to do is very difficult and valuable. Every step you take is important. Don’t wait to finish to be proud of yourself. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small. It’s not an easy path, give yourself credit. Be aware of your mistakes and learn from them but focus on praising yourself instead of putting yourself down.


And Last But Not Least: 

Remember: A good thesis is a finished thesis, not a perfect one.



We’ve got tons more advice for new PhD students. We’ve written a number of other guides that will help you along your PhD journey. You can check them out on The PhD Knowledge Base. If you want a crash course on how to structure your thesis, you can check out our 5-star rated How to Write A PhD online course. Or, if you need more hands on support, book a one-on-one PhD coaching appointment today.


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