How to be a successful PhD student — Preview

Last updated on:a year ago

I wonder that carrying out scientific researches as a scientist is not an easy thing that everyone can do. However, it could give me chances to discover something that is not existed or found before. And I can be free from the money issue trap. I don’t think I should earn much money so that I could be a billionaire. What I cherish most is taking challenges, enhancing myself, and learning more from the world. So, I decided to pursue a PhD degree. I think there are lots of things I should figure out before that, and I made a conclusion about it on the following contents.

Something that PhD candidates should know


I believe that the most significant thing a PhD candidate should know is why you try to pursue your PhD degree.

Be creative. Think about what you are doing and why, and look for better ways to go.

An undeniable necessity for being a successful PhD student is to have a real passion for your topic. Find a topic that you are passionate about and work hard. This way, all of the below will come naturally to you.

Working time

  1. Most people who brag about how many hours they work are inefficient. Because they are inefficient, they feel a need to point out how many hours they work - rather than pointing to the quality of work. Keep this in mind.
  2. Maintain fixed office hours. In a 2019 survey of 6,300 early-career researchers [4], many of them indicated issues with work-life balance. Keep mentally and physically fit. Exercise helps keep your brain plasticity high, i.e. making it easy for you to learn new things. Taking breaks and jogging can help improve your productivity.
  3. Plan your days and weeks carefully to dovetail experiments so that you have a minimum amount of downtime.
  4. Work hard — long days all week and part of most weekends. Take some weekends off, and decent holidays, so you don’t burn out.
  5. Remember, effective 8 hours a day enable you to finish most of your work. In a word, be a highly effective time manager.

10 - 10 - 6

Paper polishing and publishing

The contents of this section come from reference [1].

  1. Avoid sending this all too common email to your supervisor: ‘Dear prof, please read through the attached paper, the deadline is tomorrow’. Always alert all co-authors on manuscripts well in advance before submitting them.
  2. Thoroughly proofread your manuscript before sending it to a supervisor or co-author. Take a course in academic writing and polish your English skills. If English is not your first language, enlist a proofreading service or leverage technology and use tools like Grammarly in addition to the former.
  3. Own your project. When you meet with your supervisor, show up with all tasks completed, and ideally, the next step in mind or already started. Read a lot and be creative. Do not just show up expecting your supervisor to give you small pre-chewed tasks.
  4. All authors listed on a manuscript need to have made a significant contribution to the work. This could be through coding, ideation, editing, advising, among others.
  5. To preprint or not to preprint? Due to the slow turnaround of traditional publishing channels, and the fast pace of modern-day research. It has become very popular to make a preprint available as soon as your manuscript is accepted.
  6. Publish in impactful journals and conferences that are relevant to your research topic. While there is a lot of controversy about this, the leading evaluation metric used by many universities today is the (field normalized) impact factor of a publication, as defined by leading organizations such as Clarivate and Scopus. If you go decide to prepare a paper for a conference, always check beforehand that it has a high CORE ranking: A* is the most prestigious ranking a conference can get. Even when you publish your work at a conference, consider expanding the paper later on and submitting a more complete study to a journal.
  7. Use a collaborative writing tool for your manuscripts. This will facilitate feedback from co-authors and joint-writing sessions. If you are in a more technical field, write all your manuscripts in LaTeX. Online tools for collaborative TeX writing include Overleaf, Papeeria, and Authorea.

Work sharing

The contents of this section come from reference [1].

  1. If your manuscript contains software code, make it available, either through open source or with a limited licence (although open source will get you more users!). Whether you make your code available online or not, also keep a private repository that you share with all your fellow lab students. This will enable your teammates to leverage your work. Labs should be collaborative, not competitive.
  2. Share your research on social networks, through blog posts, and academic networks such as Scopus, ORCID,, Mendeley, and researchgate and Twitter. Writing articles on Medium that explain your publications also helps bring your work out there. Citations are important for your future career so you need to get your research out there.
  3. Become a reviewer for related conferences and journals. This will give you access to the latest research in your field before it is published! When you review manuscripts, provide thorough reviews (not just a few sentences). Remember, your manuscripts will be vetted thoroughly as well.
  4. Join professional organisations such as IEEE (engineering) and ACM (computer science). These will give you access to valuable resources such as magazines, paper archives and tutorials.
  5. Be responsive to email.

Direct PhD (D - PhD) students should know

In this section, most of the tips come from Dr Junyuan Feng, my direct UT supervisor.

1.People are likely to set higher educational standards for PhD students. But as a D-PhD student, you may not acquire considerable skills to do scientific researches. You are going to work with dis-direct PhD students who have spent 2-3 more years in scientific researches. I consider that as a junior member of the team, you can pair up with a more senior member (preferably a postdoc) for close collaboration.

2.You are more likely not to be familiar to read research papers. Thus, you are supposed to train your paper searching and reading skills. Meanwhile, you must have your ideas for these researches. Find some scientific problems from there, and think about some methods to solve them.

3.You should try to be more mature than you were bachelor students. Usually, you are much younger than most of the newcomers in your lab. It is obvious that if you can deal with negative emotions and stress well, you are more possible to stay effective, innovative and productive.

Negative examples

  • Spend most of your time in doing not important things
  • Never concentrate on your work
  • Ignore cooperating with others

Future careers

Go to work

Pre-know what kind of PhD student standards in your university. For instance, how many papers should you publish? You should try your utmost to satisfy the standards as fast as you could. Then, you can seek for your jobs in your third and fourth years.

Continue to be a scientific worker

There factors that are most essential: papers, supervisor, sources.

Throughout graduate studies, it is important to maintain a good relationship with your supervisor, while doing impactful publishing, building up a network to leverage your work, and a myriad of other small things that are vital for your future career.

Make full use of the chance of joining in conferences/lectures, being a visiting scholar, working outside your lab to make close acquaintance with scholars, engineers, professors, and so on.


[1] How to be a successful PhD student?

[2] Chris Woolston. Phds: the tortuous truth. Nature, 575(7782):403, 2019.

[3] Towards data science

[4] Is it true that PhD students need to work 10-12 hours a day every day to be productive?

[5] 一周科研60小时的博士,为何还会延期?

[6] Grad Student Advice Series: 10 Ways To Be A Successful PhD Student

[7] Chenevix-Trench, G., 2006. What makes a good PhD student?. Nature, 441(7090), pp.252-252.