by Sophie Roper

There is no doubt about it, #PhDLife really is a rollercoaster. It is full of highs and lows, twists and turns, and although it can be exciting at times, there are moments when you just want to jump off the ride! As students, it is important to support and motivate each other along this bumpy journey. That’s why I have enlisted help from five of my PhD colleagues in the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre to compile our top PhD survival tips…

1Manage your time effectively

The key to being an efficient researcher is having excellent organisation and time management skills. One huge bonus of academic research is the flexible working hours but make sure you plan your days to be as productive as possible. Whether you are someone who loves ticking off a completed task on a to-do list or you like to schedule every hour into your diary, figure out what works for you.

2Accept that things will go wrong

Despite everything we have said about being organised, things will inevitably go wrong! Make sure you schedule some contingency time to allow for this. Also, don’t stress about plans changing or results not being what you expected. You can learn from these experiences and negative results may be just as informative as positive ones!

3Make your project your own

Don’t hesitate to speak up about any ideas you have and take initiative to make new collaborations and explore novel research ideas. Your supervisors will be impressed by your independence and innovative ideas.

4Attend conferences

Go to as many seminars and conferences as you can, whether that’s within your university or further afield. Not only are they useful for your research by keeping up to date with the recent advances, but they are also a great opportunity to network and make friends with other people working in similar areas.

5Present your work

A huge part of science is sharing your work with the research community. This can seem very daunting at first, especially if you have limited presenting experience. However, the more practice you can get, the better you will become and you will soon be a natural!

6Start writing your thesis as early as possible

Whether it’s planning the structure, drafting a particular figure or writing up methods as you go along, start working on your thesis as early as possible. It is such a relief to see some words on a page instead of a blank screen staring back at you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from previous students in your department who have gone through the writing up process, their hints and tips could be really helpful!

7Get thinking about a future career and the skills required

There isn’t a “one size fits all” career path after your PhD. Start asking questions and looking for options early on to find what suits you the best. Take advantage of the training opportunities that your university or institute has to offer to add to your skill set and build up your CV outside of academic achievements.

8Have a life outside of the lab

Don’t let your project become all-consuming! It is easy to let your PhD rule your life so make sure you take time out to look after yourself and your wellbeing. Whether that’s playing guitar, running, horse-riding, cheerleading, or binge-watching a Netflix series, have some me-time to relax and do the things that you enjoy!

9Embrace your PhD community

Being a PhD researcher is a unique experience and nobody understands the journey better than fellow students. In my research group, I am lucky enough to have a close network of friends and colleagues who I can turn to at any time. When I am having a rough day, they are on hand with a listening ear, tea and biscuits (a very British way to cope with stress!) and their support has helped me through the low points of my PhD. Then on the great days, when the difficult experiment has finally worked, or the conference funding has been confirmed, they are there to celebrate over a cocktail or two!

10Enjoy it!

As cancer researchers, we are passionate about our work and proud of what we do. Whether you are brand new to research, or in the midst of thesis writing, we hope that you enjoy your PhD experience!

Are you a PhD student who has any other top tips? Or are you further on in your cancer research career and can offer some advice? We would love to hear from you! Email

Thank you to Hannah Jackson, Phoebe McCrorie, Macha Aldighieri, Matt Swift and Louisa Taylor for their helpful contributions to this article.

About the author

Sophie Roper is a final year PhD student in the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham. She is an EACR Member and Ambassador and is currently an intern in the EACR office. Her research specialises in 3D in vitro modelling of medulloblastoma.

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