5 things I wish I read 5 months ago
One of the few common factors among every PhD student’s experience is
the sheer wealth of reading that is required, especially in the first
few months. This post contains 5 recommendations for essential reading
that would have served me well before starting my PhD.
The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.
This 5 minute read contains an excellent deconstruction of the PhD
process, and helped clarify the exact purpose and nature of a
PhD. Essential reading, and I send this link to anyone who wants to
better understand what it is I am doing.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People. I
have serious reservations about this book’s title, as it paints a
rather exploitative picture which would appear to target the sort
of people who think that friends are “won” and that influence is
learned rather than earned. In actuality, the book is a set of
short stories and anecdotes, tied into a loose narrative, that
reaffirms the (largely common sense) importance of considering
other peoples’ opinions and interests in order to effectively
communicate. A PhD is a very personal journey to becoming a world
expert, the success of which relies largely on your ability to
communicate and interact well with peers and superiors whose
opinions and interests may not coincide with your own. This book
does a great job of providing an explicit framework for improving
the quality of these interactions.
- The Elements of Style.
The primary medium of communicating research is the written
word. For this reason, the importance of the ability to write
clearly, succinctly, and using good English cannot be
understated. This book is considered by many to be the authority on
good writing style.
- The Ph.D. Grind. The
PhD Grind contains a well written and entertaining account of one
man’s journey as a PhD student. It portrays an intimate story of
their mistakes and regrets, and gives the reader a real
understanding of what they went through. While everyone’s
experience is different, this memoir contains a unique insight
which I found thought provoking and useful for contrasting my own
- 124 research papers. Gaining a
reasonable grasp of your particular field of research requires an
exhausting amount of background reading. The only way to read the
amount of papers which is required is by developing the skill of
academic reading - the ability to quickly gain an understanding of
the purpose, methods, strengths, and weaknesses of a paper, without
having to perform a cover to cover read. While there are many
guides around which aim to help develop the skill, I found the best
way to improve was by practise. In my first month as a PhD
student I read 124 research papers. Had I started this reading
process earlier, I would have been able to hit the ground running
at a greater pace, able to make quicker progress in those initial
formative months in which you hone your research topic through
extensive literature review.
This list reflects only my personal experience, but I feel that the
recommendations cover a wide enough variety of topics to be a worthy
read for any student preparing to start a PhD. There will be a lot
of reading, so the earlier you start, the better.