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Q & A: What should you already know when you start a PhD

Time to answer some more of your questions, folks!

Here’s a recent submission from a reader (I obviously took out the personal details of the writer, and replaced these by Someone, Somewhere, My Field, and in Countries X and Y).

Dear Eva

This is Someone I am a new PhD student at Somewhere.

Actually I have experience in My Field because I was in Country X for 2 years before my PhD fellowship in Country Y but I am afraid of new techniques I will find in the new lab in Country Y I do not know much more about it before so do you think I am right with my fears or not ???

Should I know everything at my new lab. what they are expecting from me.




As always, let me break this question down into a few different elements.

I have experience in My Field

That’s already great – not all new PhD students have had the chance to learn in different countries and build up some experience. Some might come into their program with a few years of work or lab experience. Others might be completely new to the lab work they will be doing (I, for one, was completely new to lab work when I started my PhD).

I am afraid of new techniques I will find in the new lab in Country Y

A PhD is a learning process, and learning new skills is part of that. Besides the new lab skills that you will learn, there is so much more that you will learn along the way in your program – academic writing is a big one for most of us, for example.

Do you think I am right with my fears or not

You are right to have your doubts, fears and more about starting a PhD – because it’s a big project and it will take you some years to finish. However, the reasons why you are doubting and fearing shouldn’t really be causes for fear.

Should I know everything at my new lab

They know that a new PhD student is an apprentice. The older PhD students might take you under their wing and teach you how to use the equipment in the lab, or the lab technicians might help you with that. As long as you keep an open mind and attitude, they will all be happy to help you out. Just don’t take on an arrogant attitude, saying you know things and all that – just patiently listen and learn how things in the new lab work. And of course, bringing coffee and cookies to the other folks in the lab at some point is always a good way to win some sympathy, make friends, find a time to discuss and have a great break together.

What they are expecting from me?

That’s a question I can’t really answer – it depends on your project, your lab and your professor. If you have any doubts, if it isn’t clear to you on which actions you should be devoting more time, then please speak up and ask them.

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