Daisy's declassified PhD survival tips

Hunter Jamison 2nd April 2019

This article is part of our PhD Survival series. Here, we devise a roadmap to navigate the rocky terrain of the doctoral degree path. Daisy Shu, postdoc at Schepens Eye Research Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School reviews the three essential learnings from her PhD journey.

Right now, I’m living in Boston with two other students who just started their PhDs at M.I.T.. When I moved into the house, they asked me whether I had any general advice regarding doing a PhD, since I’d just finished mine. In fact, when I gave them my advice, they actually wrote it on a piece of paper and stuck it on the fridge. It’s called Daisy’s PhD Survival Tips and there are three of them:

(1) The first one really got me through my PhD towards the end. It’s the one thing that actually got me to the finishing end. It’s to have something that you’re going to look forward to. Something that’s going to get you through. It could be something really simple like: finally you’re gonna be able to read a book that you’ve been dreaming about reading and not papers, or it could be a holiday that you’ve got planned. It could be a massage. I don’t know, anything you like. But having that reward at the end really helps to motivate you. It has to be a big reward - something that you’ve really been looking forward to but you’ve been deprived of because you have to write your thesis. So that really helps. It could even be like buying yourself something fancy - but having something to look forward to is gonna get you to the finish line.

(2) The second thing is that organization is key. And I think that that’s where the electronic lab notebook comes in. I think even having your written files - like all your chapters of your thesis - laid out, planned carefully, and organized is going to really help you. Because even if you think that you’re going to remember something, you’ll definitely still forget it in like two months.

"Even if you think that you're going to remember something, you'll definitely still forget it in like two months."

(3) And the third one is to declutter. Every month, or even every couple of weeks, you could just do a little declutter in your lab or just in your laptop. It’s always a game. Like for me, honestly, life is catch-up. I’m always trying to be on top of things and stay on the ball, but things always kind of fall behind because other things come in the way. So decluttering is very important, especially for PhD candidates.

Full disclosure, this guide serves to present foundational habits you should seek to develop. For something as large and ambitious as a PhD, this may seem like a minimalist’s conception of a ‘guide’. But why overcomplicate things? We love Daisy’s tips because they encapsulate the main heuristics of successful and happy PhD candidates - without any of the fluff.

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