A PhD schedule takes adjustment, but the strategies that work for doctoral studies carry throughout an academic career.

Adjusting to a PhD schedule can be a challenge. Classes will take up a decent amount of your time for the first few years of a program. After completing the required courses, independent research becomes the main focus. Sometimes that can be intimidating. You become your own boss, which is an adjustment from being told what to do and when to do it.

Here are a few tips from current doctoral students and professors at Wharton on how to transition into this new lifestyle:

Brush Up on Your Time Management Skills

Learning how to manage your time more effectively can help you get your schedule under control as well as stay on task and reduce stress. Prof. Wayne Guay, the doctoral coordinator for the Accounting program, said, “Effective time management is crucial to success, progress and sanity. First, students should know they are not alone, as it is something that many — perhaps most — graduate students struggle with from time to time.”

Time management allows you to maximize your day. If you find yourself struggling to effectively manage your time, click here for helpful tips.

Doctoral student Karren Knowles
Doctoral student Karren Knowles

Ask for Help

Completing a PhD is not an easy task. There will be times when you’re struggling and may be feel unsure or overwhelmed. Prof. Fernando Ferreira, the doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, suggested that students reach out for help. He said, “It’s always much better to talk people. Share the experience that’s happening and share the problem, usually that’s the best way to overcome that struggle. It’s much easier once you’re able to communicate what exactly is happening.”

Professors are there to guide you when you need, so take advantage of their expertise. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a professor, talk to a peer. There’s a chance that others have experienced similar issues and can lend some helpful advice. Prof. Ferreira also suggested seeking help sooner rather than later as putting off a problem can cause further issues down the line.

Take a Break

From going to class, completing homework, and conducting research, your days can be jam-packed. Although it is important to focus on your work, it is also important to take time for yourself. Karren Knowlton, a third year Management student, said, “It’s super easy to feel like school is your life, but you won’t be able to bring your best self here if you don’t round yourself out in other ways. I would say maybe two nights a week try to see other people and do something outside of school even if it’s just for an hour.”

Whether grabbing dinner with a friend or joining on a club on campus, there is plenty to do in and around Philadelphia. Karren chooses to spend her free time volunteering with the Science Education Academy in West Philly. Karren said, “ It’s a fun and rewarding way to give something back to the local community that’s easy to work into a PhD student schedule.”

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Not comparing yourself to others is easier said than done. It’s important to remember a PhD program is not one size fits all. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you. Prof. Deborah Small, the doctoral coordinator for the Marketing program, said, “Of course it’s impossible to not compare yourself to others, but there’s not one right way to become an academic other than getting that degree.”

Comparing yourself to others can cause you to lose sight of the goal you’re working towards. Focus on what you personally need to do to be successful. Karren said, “Figure out what your priorities are and don’t let looking at other people and how much they seem to be working or not working affect that.”

Having tips to adjust to a PhD schedule is only helpful if you know what to expect. Get an inside look at the schedule of a PhD student.

Posted: August 4, 2017

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