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

From Start To Finish

Your PhD is going to be the focus of your professional and personal life for at least four years, so it is important that it will be time well spent. Here are some tips and points to consider to make sure you are a successful PhD student from The Graduate Recruitment Bureau.

So how do you get from start to finish and what can help keep you motivated throughout?

1)     Choose The Right University

*Research ahead of time which Universities express/match up with your best research interests and goals. Dig deeper as to what programs are ideal (look at alumni placement ratings-where do they end up? what percentage go in what sectors?), who has available funding, which programs offer stipends (is being a TA a requirement?), if there are training grants you should apply for (i.e. NSF or NIH), and which professors are looking to take students. With the NIH sequester in play, you’d be surprised how competitive things (positions as a result of funding) are becoming.

*Chances are if you email these professors ahead of time, you can meet with them prior to the start of your graduate program and beat out the crowd for limited lab slots available for grad students. The early bird gets the worm, as some graduate students even start working prior to the official start of the semester.

Financial backing is important, as your PhD can’t begin without it, so a major step for being a successful PhD student is to get financial funding, and as much of it as possible. PhDs are not cheap with all the material, equipment and research that is required. So, the more  secure financial aid you apply for, the less you need to worry about (if the financial aid is required and is graduate program dependent).

If funding is of concern, get in contact with any relevant business or organization(s) that might be interested in your research and willing to fund it for you. For example, research charities or councils that have shown a keen interest in your area of study fund doctorates and academic institutions will have lists of the PhDs they offer.

*Many life science programs give you a stipend to support you (and you might have to TA on the side). When that is not enough, check out 7 easy ways to earn an alternative income here:

2)    Keep The Passion

An undeniable necessity for being a successful PhD student is to have a real passion for your topic. Your PhD will be your life for the next 4 or more years, so you need to be really committed to the subject with no risk of finding it tiresome.

The passion you feel for your subject will be tested throughout the course of your research due to work, time and supervisor pressures, so the bond you share needs to be indestructible. If you aren’t 100% committed to your topic, then you can’t put in the needed effort and passion that are key ingredients for a successful PhD. So, make sure you are really interested in the research you are about to undertake.

3)     Learn

Knowing the experts in your field can only help you and your PhD be a success. Apply to work with a prestigious tutor/mentor, as after all, who better to be your mentor than the leading expert in your field? If you don’t ask you don’t get so don’t be afraid to try.

In addition to having a tutor/mentor who seriously knows their stuff, you need to read, watch and listen to your favorite authors and researchers and then try and make contact with them. More often than not they will be more than happy to spend some time discussing their latest findings and theories with you- they are the Hollywood Royalty of academia so let the know you are their number one fan. You never know, they might have some life changing opportunities for you.

4) Network

Your PhD is going to take up a substantial part of your life, and it is important to realize that a successful PhD student will change their priorities from year to year. In the first year, you need to network and get your name out there and be known. If people don’t know you exist, how will they know about your research and whether it is something really ground-breaking that they should take an active interest in?

After your PhD, you are going to need contacts and opportunities and your research is the key to open all these doors, so take the time in the first year to spread your word and get involved in projects. In the final years, your main priority should be your work, so it is sensible to turn down some event invitations- you should have made a big enough fuss about yourself in the first year to be able to not attend some events and still not be forgotten. Build yourself a solid basis and name early on, and then complete your work knowing that the interest and knowledge about it is still out there.

5) Read

Doing a PhD means making an original contribution to the field; one of great value, interest and benefit. Your research needs to complement existing research and not replicate anything.

Therefore, you need to read as much as possible including every piece of theory and research that has ever been done in your area. Know what has been found, what hasn’t been proved, what’s been suggested, successful and ignored. If you don’t know what is already in existence, then you can’t make an original and reputable contribution to the field. Therefore, it is essential that in order to be a successful PhD student that you start hitting those books.

6)     Communicate

It’s great that you’re doing all this research and discovering all these fascinating trends, but if you cannot communicate your research and progress effectively-then the real potential of your PhD will be lost.

Brush up on your communication skills. Your written communication needs to be impeccable; logically ordered, easy to follow and with a clear message. Obviously, grammatically correct and with no spelling errors too! When presenting your work to audiences at conferences and meetings it needs to be an exciting, engaging delivery.

Additionally, make sure you are presenting your work to the right people. To be a successful PhD student you need to be more than a great researcher; you need to be able to convey your findings and theories to a specialist audience in a way that will create and retain your professional, reputable image. This means no stuttering, no monotonous lengthy speeches and no waffling, unpunctuated sentences.

7)     Work hard

A good work ethic is pivotal to your PhD success. You need to work hard and play hard to stay motivated and sane during your PhD. It is essential that you allow yourself breaks if you feel as though it’s all getting too much and a touch of cabin fever is setting in. An hour’s break or a day off can do your research the world of good. If by lunchtime you are going mad then go for a jog, do some painting, bake a cake- whatever you do to reconnect and re-establish control. On the other hand you can’t take too many breaks, so keep in mind that you still need to stay productive.

Treat your PhD like a job– as it essentially is- which equates to five days a week and having down-time on weekends. Or, if you need to work weekends then make sure you allow yourself some relaxation in the week. The balancing act of work and play is a fine art, but master it and you’ll be a successful PhD student.

8)     Persevere

Perseverance is the key to success with all PhDs, as most research won’t instantly fall nicely into place right from the get-go. You need to stick with it and constantly reassess and modify your method(s) to achieve the best you can and derive promising results.

This means you must be organized as well as tenacious. Keep meticulously detailed notes at every stage of your work so far and have a plan of action so you always know what the next stage is. It doesn’t matter if in reality the next stage doesn’t pan out as planned, but by knowing which direction it is headed will help to channel your energy and research to make the most efficient use of your time.

9)     Stay productive

When inspiration strikes, jump on it. You don’t have to stick to the traditional three part strategy of completing a PhD- reading, doing, writing. Apart from being a long winded and tiresome method, it might not actually be that productive. If it’s necessary to do some research to back up your writing, then it is fine to read some more.

Or, if it makes more sense to carry out the experiment or data collection over a longer period of time, then do it alongside the reading and writing. There is no right way of working, so just do what is best for you. Just make sure you keep things fresh and moving forward to be successful.

10) Publish

Obviously your PhD is going to be published on completion, but write it up and publish it in various places as you go along. At the natural end of each stage do a write up and publish it online, for example, on your own blog or relevant websites.

Get people excited about what you are doing and keep them in the loop with your progress. Write up each chapter in the form of an article and then rewrite them to encompass your whole PhD.

If you want to learn more about the importance of science blogging and gaining online exposure, check out this post by the Next Scientist:

Note: * in above article paragraphs indicates comments contributed by The Grad Student Way (United States specific)

About the Author

Written by Anna Pitts, a Marketing Assistant and Online Researcher at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. Her work involves PR and outreach and writing informative, interesting advice based articles for graduates and students.

Further Reading

Top 10 Most Valuable Lessons and Things I Learned In Grad School

7 Easy Ways For Graduate Or College Students To Earn Alternative Income Or Make Money Online

Why A Struggle?

I have struggled with the question, “How Do I Earn Extra Money On The Side While In School?” my entire college career. When I was an undergrad, I was taking 18 credits (with 3-4 science labs), working in a research lab, and working a part time job 20 hours a week. I only knew of one way to pay for college tuition and fees: working a second job in the evenings and weekends. So I went into sales.

I sold cellular phones for TMobile, Alltel, Sprint, and AT&T. I did this for 4 years. The timing was perfect since the market was young and new customers were not uncommon during that time (cell phone bubble). When the Motorola Razr was worth 300 dollars back in 2004. Anyways, this job was hourly + commission and I made a killing. I was making 15-18K a year working part time while in school. But jobs like this are hard to come by (I had extensive sales experience prior), and require a lot of effort. Nowadays, cell phone sales will not pay as well because instead of new contracts everyone is upgrading. There are 300 million cell phone users in the U.S. I wonder what it was in 2004?

So.. With that said. Say you are studying for the GRE or MCAT. Say you are doing an internship on the side. You’re really hurting on money. You don’t have time to fit in a second job. You didn’t qualify for work study. Or you are in graduate school and aren’t allowed to take on a second job. Or you simply just don’t have time. How can someone earn extra income on the side without having to put in 20-40 hours a week? Without having to put on a work uniform and put in the set amount of weekly hours on top of your already busy life?

1) Online Tutoring.

Yea that’s right. If you are good at something like Math or English you can get paid to be an online tutor. A lot of them will require you to pass a certification test. But if you do (and meet the requirements), you can earn money in your spare time being a teacher. That is if you like to teach and have the patience. The payout can vary, you can get $15 an hour and this can go up depending on assignments and prior experience. You can check out more here:

2) Teach A Musical Instrument.

A lot of people grew up learning/playing piano, guitar, trumpet, etc. If you have 5+ years of experience, all you really need to do is buy a book on the musical theory. I did it for guitar. So not only could I teach the technique of guitar but also the theory to support it (I had to brush up on this). Payout (on a craigslist ad and other sites) was $10-15 for a 30 minute session. You set the price. Build your client base, reputation, and watch your income increase.

3) Sell Stuff On Ebay and Craigslist.

You’ve heard it before. But I took my parents old car rims and sold them for $200 on a 7 Day Auction. They were just sitting there taking up garage space. They said I could have all the profit. We also had some old cherry furniture and dinette set sitting in our garage. Sold that for $150 in one day. More cash in my pocket. Electronic items will also sell. Did you upgrade your cell phone? Sell your old one. If you have the box and manuals then you’re golden.

Don’t want to ship something? Sell it on craigslist. Once you get used to writing sales ads, it comes pretty natural. Just make sure you have the full description and take PROFESSIONAL pictures. Yes lighting, background, and presentation will make a difference in the payout. Even having the full title makes a difference (especially when it comes to keywords).

Selling on Ebay and Craigslist is not Rocket Science, but it’s funny how people are too lazy to sell their old stuff because they think it has no value or they say they “Don’t have time.” Even old furniture has a price. Don’t just throw your futon or couch by the dumpster if you need the money. You can post a Craigslist ad or Ebay ad in under 5 minutes once you have the pictures and description. Lack the description? Well that’s what Google is for. Get out there and do your research! Get the specs. Go on Ebay and see what stuff is selling for. Look at the completed listings. I have made thousands of dollars on Ebay and Craiglist over the past 10 years. I have sold stuff from car stereos to clothes to ram air hoods for camaros. And you can too. You can sell simple stuff on Craiglist or Ebay like your student season football tickets. It doesn’t have to be some big ticket item. The possibilities are endless.

4) Get paid for your expertise or opinion.

We are all experts at something different. Say someone is an expert at waterskiing or snowboarding. Could they get paid to be an instructor? Yes. You factor in the time and the need for resources. Maybe you want to become a personal trainer because you are really into fitness (this does require certification). Maybe you speak a second language. Get paid to be an interpreter. You’re good at writing. Take it one day at a time. Write a book. Easier said than done right?

Only you truly know whether your expertise would have an immediate or more long-term payout. So you could invest your time to see payout later. Be a consultant. Teach a class. Be a coach. Be a photographer. You decide. Do you have the time to invest and what’s the risk/reward? If it isn’t feasible seek alternatives. Either way, pursue your passion and you can’t go wrong.

My Favorite OneCheck Out Focus! If you take the survey by answering some questions (you fill out your profile first), qualify, and they pick you.. You’re in luck. Can range anywhere from $50-200 bucks for only 1-2 hours of your time. They do national studies as well as local (more if you are in a big city). I got paid $75 via a Visa Rewards Gift Card immediately after doing a 1-on-1 tobacco study. Getting selected is not easy, but when you do (if you do) it’s well worth it.

I’ve also heard of people getting paid to do online surveys. Although I’ve never really dug deeper into this as a way to make income on the side, I definitely think it is possible (from what I’ve heard). The only downside is that it is annoying and tedious. Check out sites like I’ll leave it up to you to find which sites are legit. Make sure you set up a separate gmail just to send all the spam mail that you’ll get.

5) Start An Online Business.

Who has time, right? What happens is people think they have to do this all in one night. Or they need the idea NOW. If you want a successful online business it takes MONTHS. Sometimes years to even get it going. How do I know? I started my own online business while in graduate school. Back in 2009 I launched a site that sold various woodworking products. None of these products sold and that was after weeks of developing the website and paying for a dot com. People didn’t want to pay shipping. They wanted something they could see in person and buy locally.

So it seemed like I really had no marketable product or target audience, and that it was going to be another failed business. By accident, I tested the market with a sporting goods product (bean bag toss boards) and it sold the next day on Craigslist for $99. From there it led to a very successful business on the side (took one year to get established). 3 years later and it’s still going strong to this day. Sell whatever you see fit whether it is goods or services, it could even be developing your own iPhone app.

The key is consistency and to be persistent. It is wise to have an exit strategy, but don’t give up at the beginning, become impatient, or get easily discouraged. Now you may not be as fortunate as me and have the time to make products like this and sell them. In that case I’ll leave the idea up to you. You could buy products for wholesale and sell them for profit. This is not uncommon to buy in bulk (from China), add to the product features and sell it above wholesale.

I did this for cell phones and was an Ebay Powerseller for 2 years straight making 40 dollars on each phone I sold. Anything is possible when it comes to running your own business. Are you frustrated because the idea hasn’t come? That’s why you test it with a Craiglist ad. Test your market. A lot of times the idea can come by accident or when you least expect it. Forced ideas rarely work in my opinion. The best ideas are the ones that come when you least expect it.

If you do a Google search for ‘Earning Income While In College’ you will always get some list like ‘Top 8 Ways to Make Money.’ The site is littered with affiliate links and hyped up reviews. You have to wonder if the author even tried it for him or herself. Most likely they didn’t. Don’t waste your time. It is another example of a forced idea.

The best idea is your originality. That’s right. Stop giving plasma. Painting houses. Mowing Lawns. Doing Paper Routes. This is old-fashioned thinking. We live in a current day and age where you can utilize technology to your advantage. You just need to know-how. There are much better ways to make money and this brings me to my next point.

6) Get paid to be a writer.

Ever heard of Textbroker? If not, you have now. Get paid to be an author. You don’t have to be a professional writer. Typically, you can get paid close to 100 bucks or more for an 8,000 word article that you write (starting). As you build up your reputation and rating, you can get up to 5 cents per word. You pick the topic. The client sets the deadline and you have X amount of days to finish the article in your spare time.

Some people have also reported HubPages as a great way to earning money online. Every time you write an article or “hub” you can generate a large amount of traffic to your site. The more hubs and the more you grab your reader’s attention, the more hits you get. Then you can earn money through Google Adsense. HubPages has a very user friendly way of setting this up. I would look into it if you haven’t already and if you enjoy writing: HubPages Success Stories

Also see: 7 websites that pay $50 or more for guest blog posts

7) Sell An Informational Product Online.

This is by far the best way to earn a second income. The focus here is to create an informational product that truly adds value back to your readers. The extent and measure of value creation will be based on how well you truly help solve your audience’s problem or issue.

Once the value has been created, it is a win-win because you are helping others solve their problem(s) while at the same time you are receiving compensation for all your hard work.

Once you have a good informational product that is well-written and informative, this is the best bang for the buck. It’s a slow crawl at first and takes patience and persistence. It takes hard work. But with anything, hard work is a given. A lot of people want the immediate answer. They get short-up. They Google something and get caught up in some money making pyramid scheme or scam. There are thousands of money making methods online. Many methods lack the truth and best way to effectively do online marketing. Why? Because they pile on a million things that try and get you to purchase their product. Then you make some cookie-cutter website.

I know because I am an example of someone who got suckered into one of these get rich quick scams. They put you on some 14 day or 30 day plan. Deep down you know it probably won’t work. You have your doubts from the beginning. If it takes away the originality from you, your gut feeling will usually tell you it won’t work. And your gut feeling is almost always right. Without hard work and originality it most likely will not work. It produces clones of the original.

What happens is it dilutes everything. Lowers the quality. Discourages people. Who makes all the money? The person at the top. But what’s funny is the person is making money off telling you how to make money. The problem isn’t really being solved because nothing is being created that has substance or originality (there is simply promotion for more promotion). If the person selling the product actually told you useful information then I don’t think the market would be so saturated and confused. The truth is obscured.

My whole point here is what is the one TRUE method to actually earn a second income while in grad school or college? I have yet to read one or find a method that is geared towards specifically towards graduate, professional, or college students. How does one create a product to help another OVERCOME A PROBLEM? And keep the originality? And not product some cookie cutter website or product? The answer is you create your own informational product. The easiest one is an E-book.

And you don’t have to be a writer for this to work. You can pay someone on Textbroker to write it for you (this is optional). You’re busy with school. Time and money are scarce. So you can outsource your article (and add to it on your own if you want). You can invest your money in someone else. Or if you have the time, write the article yourself. Then it comes down to online Marketing Principles. You earn all your money back and more. It’s a no-brainer.

The hard part is getting the Traffic to your sales page/product and promoting your product. Once you get past this, the profits start rolling in. There really is no secret to it. It does take time and hard work, but it will be even harder if you try to learn it from scratch. In my book, I’ve done all the research for you and I’ve found out what does and doesn’t work. So you are already two steps ahead if you buy it and follow it. Why is this original? Because you pick the product or idea.

You pick the problem that you want others to overcome that is UNIQUE to your situation. Something you are passionate about. Maybe you’ll title it, “How I Found Ways in Grad School to Make Money on the Side.” Or “How A Science Blog Saved My PhD.” Or “Using A Science/College/Graduate School Blog for Online Advertisement/Promotion.” Or “How I Effectively Wrote My Thesis in 4 weeks.” Or “How to Effectively Network While in Grad School to Land Your Dream Job.” Lastly, “Top 10 Things I Learned in Grad School: For The New and Prospective Students.” Many more ideas here.

Tell people your story. Share your hardships. Your audience will listen. And you can sell your product and help others learn from your experience. Maybe it’s something you struggled with and now you look back at all you have learned and you can’t wait to share that information. But not only are you creating a product to help yourself earn income and tell your story, you are helping others along the way. So they can learn from your struggles or hardships. It’s a win-win. If you want to learn more, check out: Ebook: Second Income

I wrote it to help people like you. To give a step-by-step guide that isn’t sugar coated. That actually works and isn’t all hype. The best part: IT’S FREE.

Ultimately the idea is up to you. The only thing right now holding you back is yourself. If you want to go and work the traditional ‘second’ job to earn income be my guest. But the whole point of this blog is to make you aware of easier and more feasible options while you are enrolled in graduate or professional school. #1-6 all have the potential to work. I know because I’ve done it the past 10 years of my life. But the best bang for the buck while in college/grad school in my experience is #7. Dig deeper and you will not be disappointed.

Still Skeptical?

Check out my interview on I’ve Tried That, where I answer a very long series of in-person, in-depth questions.

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