If you want to invest some time during your PhD (and preferably at the beginning of the PhD) to develop good habits, you will reap the benefits in the later years.
I’ve identified the following habits as elements that will save you time in the long run, and if you remain in academia, they will bear fruits over the years as you become a post-doc and tenure tracker.
- Set up systems to store your references: Chose a reference management software system. Think about how you are going to take notes of what you read and store these notes. Identify where on your computer you will save your references. Set up these systems early in your research journey, so that you can add on as you read more, and don’t need to spend a lot of time at some point to organize your references.
- Think about the architecture of your folders: How are you going to organize all your information? Think about the architecture of the tree structure of your folders in advance, so that it won’t grow just organically on your computer. You can think of basic folders such as teaching (if you TA), courses (if you are taking courses), research, events, literature, etc.
- Develop a data management protocol: Most universities have a data steward, so if you are thinking about how you will manage your research data, I would recommend you to ask for a meeting with this person, or see if they organize workshops. Think about how you will store and back-up your data, how you will work with code and spreadsheets you develop (and how you will identify changes you made over time), and if and how you will make your data public.
- Learn to plan: A PhD is a long journey, so some planning is necessary. If you haven’t had any course in project management, try to understand the basics of this discipline. Learn to plan your days, weeks, months, semesters, and years and set reasonable goals for the different timeframes you look at. Learn to plan in time for the different responsibilities that you have a PhD student, between taking courses, doing your research, helping with teaching, preparing for presentations, conferences, and writing papers.
- Develop the habit of delivering before the deadline: You are not in school anymore, where you can finish a homework by pulling an allnighter. High quality research reports require more than allnighters. They require the time to think about the research, to carry out the research tasks, to write the report, to edit your writing, and then enough time for your supervisors to read, edit and comment on your work. Learn to plan in sufficient buffer, so that you can develop high-quality work and submit on time or even before the deadline.
- Strive for work-life balance: If you learn to set healthy boundaries to work during your PhD, you are setting yourself up for long-lasting success in graduate school. Find time for friends and social activities, for sports, for hobbies, for relaxing, getting enough sleep, and whatever you need to charge your batteries.
Which good habits do you think are essential to develop during the PhD years? Let me know in the comments below.