Be Passionate: Be sure to love and be passionate about your research or dissertation topic, it makes the whole process easier and you are better at selling a project you are passionate about than something you feel disconnected from.
Choose the Right Advisor: You will be working closely with your Advisor for the duration of your PhD program – do not rush the decision. Meet with different faculty members to determine who is the best fit, taking into consideration not only their interests, but also, and more importantly, their personality and philosophy towards supervision and research.
Early and Regularly: Establish your dissertation committee early and maintain regular contact with members. This is especially important when determining authorship amongst your committee for any publications.
Communicate Often: Be sure to openly and frequently communicate with your advisor. Most specifically, having weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your chair can keep you on track. This particularly helps with research progress.
Plan Ahead: Dissertation research can be cumbersome – there are many tasks that need to be accomplished, and one can easily become overwhelmed or inefficient, if unprepared. Work with your supervisor to break down the work into manageable pieces, and determine the necessary sequence that they need to be accomplished in. Along the same lines, do not start the research process (e.g., ethics approval, data collection/ request) until you have a clear picture of the analyses that you plan to conduct.
Present Often: Present your research at any available opportunity. Good presentation skills are necessary and are a work in progress; every little opportunity helps!
Write Often: Write weekly (if not, daily). Take notes on the literature you have read to develop your research question and will read to support your research during your literature search and review. Use a table format to take your notes and, at first, indicate the author(s) and date in the first column and the note why the article/manuscript is of interest to you in the second column. Columns to the right for key finds, participants, and gaps in research can be filled as you advance in your program. Keeping an electronic file of your notes allows you to move rows when you start organizing your thoughts.
Produce a manuscript: Make a goal to produce a manuscript (or two or three) before you graduate. This will help to establish yourself in the field and be marketable for a job when you’re done.
Familiarize Yourself: Become familiar with forms that you need to complete for your research and/or program. Seek to review or get copies of examples of Institutional Review Board applications of projects related to yours. Identify forms you will need for each step or stage of your program (e.g., qualifying exam, pre-candidacy, and candidacy) and identify who you will need to have sign it.
Choose Your Battles Wisely: You will likely face many roadblocks in your research. While it is important to voice your opinion and work through some challenges, being flexible and willing to move on from a project or idea can sometimes be best.
Apply, Apply, Apply: Apply for scholarships/fellowships/awards any chance you get. This may help your program and/or project. It looks good on your CV too!
Expand Your Horizons: Take classes and attend seminars/presentations in other disciplines. This especially helps if your research is health-related, as we know most conditions occur from many factors, not just nutritional ones. This will aid in doing your research and help you be interdisciplinary in your thoughts and ability to pull a complete, well-rounded project together. You will learn new things that may spark ideas for your own work. This may also spark new ideas and provide a bridge for potential partnerships in research.
Variety is Important: Get a variety of experiences, both in teaching and in research projects that are not your own. This will help you develop a variety of skills that you may not get otherwise. It is especially beneficial if you want to pursue a career in academia.
Stay Grounded: Manage your time effectively and try to create a healthy work/write/research-life balance to include time for things you enjoy and allow you to also support the family and friends that are supporting you. Find a non-school related activity or interest (it could be spending time with family/friends, participating in sports, or doing crafts, etc.) – you have to make time for yourself! Balance is key.
Courtesy of recent students and graduates of the PhD Nutrition Program and the book What they Didn’t Teach you in Graduate School by Paul Gray and David Drew, 2nd edition, 2012.