Think about the next 2 years (master) or 4 years (Ph.D.) but also about the aftermath of your graduate studies. What do you want to do after, and at what rhythm? Where do you want to work? What motivates you in life? When you have the answers (or an idea) for all these questions (and it should be in the first month of your studies), play your cards well to get to your life objective. What do you need to do to achieve your goal? Does your director know your goal? Is he acting for you to get it? What can he do to help you? Always be strategic about any training, collaboration and project you set so that when you finish your studies, you will have a full set of arms to shoot for your dream job and life. No regrets.
Learn other languages
If you don’t already speak, read and write in english, get to it soon. You are already late. You’ll go nowhere if you keep using translators to read papers or to write your own manuscript. On the other hand, if you speak only English, know that people that learn many languages stimulate constantly their brain and create patterns of thinking and synapse routes that improve their cognitive efficiency plus help them to keep a healthy memory longer. Thus, get your lazy brain working and learn another language. It will enrich your personality and open your mind.
Select your director(s) carefully
It might be easier to find a director that already has a busy-well-crowded student group. Although some advantages might come of the knowledge and support you can get from colleague students, your director will be really busy and won’t take you by the hand through all steps and challenges. If you are the independent type, this can fit perfectly with you, but if you are rather the dependent type, go with a director that has a smaller group or is beginning he’s professor assignment, for he will be much more present along the way to give you good advices and support you through challenges.
Know when to ask for help
It is always good to solve problems by yourself, or at least try to work the first steps towards a solution. However, if it’s been more than 2 weeks that you are stuck and you feel depress, tired, you want to quit your studies, please ask for help either directly to your adviser or to a supportive post-doc or university professor. Pride and stubbornness will only bring you to exhaustion and will impede you to advance your project. Don’t be scared to look stupid by asking questions, to lose one month over something you could have solved in one week with help makes you look foolish and immature.
E-mails = Short
If you want your message to get through to a busy colleague, don’t write a novel. Go straight to the point. If you have more than one question, consider if a meeting is needed, and if not, make sure to organize your text into paragraph/idea to facilitate your correspondent’s life.
Use your fellow students
The people that are already working in the lab when you arrive are full of knowledge and advices that will definitely be useful to you. You shall treat them well so they will want to support you when time will come. If they look focused or angry with their computer, don’t bother asking now. You should either wait when they get up to do something or ask them to tell you when they would have time for you. In the lab, if you get support from a colleague, you should try to give them a similar favor, for them to see the advantage of having helped you and increase their willingness to support you in the future. Remember, your lab is your home for the next years, so your lab buddies are your family and resources.
Use, acquire & conquer
If your center offers resources to students, make sure to use them to learn more and get more independent with your project every time. Take notes, ask questions, and inquire so that afterward you will be a resourceful researcher. The more useful you are as a colleague the more you will be included in projects and the more you could publish.
Have a healthy life
Make sure to move during your work day, take an activity brake every hour for ten minutes if you can, so that the toxin that accumulate in your body and in your brain get washed away and you can regain focus and energy. Eat well and often (small portions). Your brain needs good protein, stable sugar flow, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and A LOT OF WATER. Sleep as well as you can and try to establish a working routine so that you work and rest enough throughout the week. Find your equilibrium and use it to your advantage.
Organize your day
Find the period in the day during which your brain works to its fullest strength. Then, always plan your brainy tasks to be done at that moment and keep other less cerebral tasks for other moments when you feel more tired. You will feel that your days are more productive and easier to go through because you won’t be fighting all the time to get the job done. Sometimes it will be impossible and you will have to force yourself but the increased energy you will get from this strategic schedule will translate in all spheres of your life.
Do what you love & love what you do
If you feel unhappy about your work, if every morning feels like the hardest day of your life and you struggle to go through it without smile and laughter, then you might consider changing your study path. You have just one life, and though I almost never leave a project incomplete, sometimes if you made a mistake in your life choices, you better fix it soon than too late. Make sure you know yourself well enough to know what you don’t want to do and focus on what intrigues and inspires you, whatever it is.
READ – THINK – LEARN – NOTE – WRITE
You should always read papers in your domain, but also of satellites domains to keep in touch with what is being done and what is trendy now. Create a work method that will work for you so that you can take notes whenever reading a paper. A good notes document could be the best thing to have when starting to write. Since writing is something you should do quite often, to already have a bank of insightful notes will give your work a strong baseline.