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I just started a PhD and I was looking for some guidance on what I could expect in the following years, more specifically, what is the recommended way to progress, how should I allocate my research hours and other responsibilities, and , finally, when and how should I start writing my PhD thesis.

Is there any book written on how to conduct yourself during the course of a PhD? What would be your overall recommendations?

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You definitely need to have some (long) conversations with your advisor. He/she will have the best answer for you specifically. – Austin Henley Feb 5 '13 at 6:05
This is potentially a good question, but I will edit it to add a more general perspective. – Leon palafox Feb 5 '13 at 7:39
This depends widely on country and field, making it impossible to answer in a generic manner. – F'x Feb 5 '13 at 8:14
When I first started a PhD program, my professor uncle gave me this: – Amy Feb 5 '13 at 18:29
If possible, the best person to ask is someone finishing PhD at our place, or a fresh postdoc. When it comes to more general things, it can vary with respect to discipline, university and... your own skills and motivations. – Piotr Migdal Feb 5 '13 at 22:58
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Have a look at this excellent memoir by a recent CS PhD: The Grind by Philip Guo

Although written from a CS perspective, many of his experiences transcend disciplines.

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Looks like a nice book, i'll start reading it, as a master's student planning on going PHD in the following months... – Ricardo Segovia Feb 5 '13 at 21:00
I will say though that my experience doing a Ph.D at Stanford is absolutely nothing like his. YMMV – Suresh Feb 6 '13 at 7:17
Likewise for me at Berkeley. Philip Guo's PhD experience was not typical. Neither, for that matter, was Jorge Cham's (also at Stanford). [On the other hand, I'm not convinced that a "typical" PhD experience actually exists, so this statement may be trivial.] – JeffE Feb 7 '13 at 0:17

what is the recommended way to progress

Steadily. Make small progress every day.

how should I allocate my research hours and other responsibilities


when and how should I start writing my PhD thesis.

Now, and in LaTeX. Write down everything you read, everything you do, everything you prove, everything you try that doesn't work, every crazy stupid idea you have. Write, write, write. Always in LaTeX.

Most importantly: It's your PhD. You have to hunt it down and kill it.

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This bears repeating over and over again: it's your Ph.D - not your advisor's. It's your job to ..well.. finish it. An advisor merely advises. – Suresh Feb 6 '13 at 7:19

There is a lot written on the 'PhD journey' but there are some things I learnt along the way that took me across the void (so as to speak!).

I am listing them in no particular order:

  1. Be true to yourself and your supervisor. Keep your end of the bargain. Meet deadlines. Keep your supervisor in the loop (even on trivial matters - the matter may be trivial from your point of view). Respect him or her. Of course you can have friendly arguments. Follow his or her instructions/suggestions/advice closely.
  2. If you don't know, ask. You can ask your supervisor or email other scholars. My dissertation benefited from several prominent thinkers in the field. I simply emailed them and asked for assistance. There is no shame in asking. It is a learning process.
  3. Celebrate your big and little achievements. When you finish writing a difficult chapter, give yourself a treat. Set small goals - you cannot finish your dissertation in a day but you can draft a section of your chapter in a day.
  4. Learn and try to become an expert in your field. After graduation, you would be expected to have advanced knowledge in your field. Be genuinely interested in what you are doing. Think of new ways of addressing the issues. Discuss your approaches with your fellow PhD students. They are often your first audience. Have a network of support.
  5. Most importantly, recognise that there would be some good days and some bad days. Make the most of them both. On bad days, give yourself a break. I think the literature says that most PhD student will start enthusiastically and then lose interest in the middle years and then gain momentum again.

My overall recommendation is to never lose sight of your goal.

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