Ten tips from a final year PhD researcher

Anastasiia G Kovalenko is a final year PhD Researcher funded by the University of Exeter Medical School. She is a mixed-method researcher exploring the bystander approach to violence prevention. Anastasiia is passionate about social psychology, group processes, research, teaching and writing. She is the PsyPAG Representative to the BPS South West of England Branch. Outside of work, her interests include travelling, playing ukulele, and painting.

Finding the right software is essential when it comes to organising your research. Over the years, I have tried tons of various apps and software and these are my top 5:

  1. Evernote or Microsoft OneNote (OneNote comes free). You will collect lots of notes throughout the years, this could be related to any of your studies, or career and training opportunities. Evernote has a really good web clipper that allows to save papers, print screens or article sections directly to your notebooks. While OneNote has a better interface with all the colour coding. I tend to think about my studies a lot before bed or in the morning when I wake up. Such apps are quite helpful because they allow voice recording, so when I am too tired to type or look at the screen, I just dictate all of my ideas and save for later under a certain notebook stack.

 

  1. Mendeley or Zotero (both are free). You might be doing a systematic review or meta-analysis, or you might just need a referencing software for your literature review and overall thesis. Either of these 2 apps is a must-have, as you will be managing hundreds of resources. With just a few clicks you will be able to manage your citations and lists of references. These apps also allow web browser and MS word integration.

 

  1. LaTex (free). I am MS Office trained, and I’ve  been using only this software for my studies and work. In my final year I discovered LaTex, and I think it’s amazing. You will have to learn just a bit of coding, but after that you might not want to go back to any other document editors! Why? First of all, it allows online editing (via Overleaf that is linked with your UoE account) without glitches and crashes. Second, you edit all of your chapters/papers separately in the same folder and then compile the whole document in 1 click. Third, it allows to backup the whole project (but it can only be linked to Dropbox while our University default and recommended secure software is OneDrive). Since I couldn’t find any University of Exeter thesis templates, I decided to create one myself (following the UoE guidelines). You can find it here: https://github.com/girlinthegardn/phd-thesis-uoe but please note that it is unofficial and your school might have different requirements.

 

  1. OneDrive (free for UoE researchers). My main advise is to always keep your documents backed up, ideally on several sources. University of Exeter offers OneDrive storage and I honestly think it’s amazing. All of the documents are backed up, and I also copy them on an external encrypted hard drive.

 

  1. Forest (timer). I like this app because it allows to time various activities (and also stop procrastination as a bonus). As you grow the trees, you earn coins which you can use to plant a real tree.

 

In addition to software, I just wanted to share some general tips that I think would be important:

  1. Backup and keep all versions of your documents and notes. When it comes to the write-up of your thesis, every detail matters. And of course, you don’t want to lose any precious data.
  2. Think about your dream job. Then look at job descriptions online. Try to think what skills and knowledge would be beneficial in addition to your PhD. Sometimes it’s new software or coding language, sometimes it’s a new method. Try to find additional training before you finish your PhD – this could be your “thing” that differs you among others.
  3. Treat your PhD as a job and leave your work at work. After 2 years, the line between research and life disappeared and PhD became my lifestyle. Trust me, it’s unhealthy. You shouldn’t feel guilty that you’re not working at the weekends, your brain also needs to rest from all the tremendous work and data processing that it’s doing.
  4. You are a project manager. In addition to your everyday research tasks, you have to see the big picture, keep track of all things, manage your time and resources and coordinate with your supervisors.
  5. Impostor syndrome is a real thing. But here’s what I think: you are good enough, you are worthy, and you are smart. You were the perfect match and that’s why you got this opportunity. Almost everyone in academia has this issue. Just believe in yourself and… trust me, if it was easy, everyone could do it. You got this.

 

Written by: Anastasiia Kovalenko