More advice over breakfast

We had a breakfast talk this morning, and I was one of the two organizers. The topic that I planned was “How to cope with your first PhD semester?” but it the talk soon widened up to coping with a PhD in general. There were interesting ideas around, most of which came from SL, our guest-of-honor for the day.

  • Many useful pieces of advice is contained in this blog post on the SUTD Brain Lab website
    • Have a notebook to write down ideas (still experimenting with different ways to take notes)
    • Have a personal website (I’ve already done this, yay!)
    • Have regular meetings with your advisor (thankfully, I don’t have to push for this as my advisor is super “on”)
    • Write down minutes of the meetings (need to start doing this)
    • LaTeX (I taught myself LaTeX—with helps from Google, of course—and I’ve been submitting homework and reports in LaTeX since the middle of my first semester).
    • GitHub (Sean’s been telling me to do this, and then Zunction wrote a nice tutorial and asked me to try out. I’m gonna start tomorrow).
    • Python and other Python related stuff (during the summer I started learning Python, but I was also learning R at the same time. And I found learning two languages at the same time difficult. So right now, Python’s status is “in the queue”).
  • Every 3 months, sit down in a quiet corner and have a mind map to connect all the research ideas into a big picture. Eventually, you’re gonna have a giant mind map that is the gist of your thesis.
  • Have a “research summary” every month to consolidate all the things you’ve come across in that month. Well, I actually did this in my summer project—I wrote 3 reflections in those 3 months. But I have to admit those reflections were more on feelings than on science.
  • It is the act of sorting and organizing ideas and references that is the most important. It is a mental exercise that helps you have a “helicopter” view of your work. The actual end results of the sorting is less important.
  • Sometimes it is more important to let people experience things and come to the conclusion on their own than telling them everything.

Now, those are practical and specific tips, but here’s the coolest one: in your PhD, it is super important to work with other students. SL has seen very smart PhD students working alone and ending up nowhere while less smart PhD students succeeding by drawing supports from a group.

I have to say there are many cool people around here. It’s great!