5 Mistakes PhD Candidates Make!

5 Mistakes PhD Candidates Make!

Hi my name is James Arvanitakis and I’m the Dean of the Graduate Research School here at Western Sydney University and
this is one of our series of short videos that we make I suppose to give tips
to higher degree research students. So today’s tip is five mistakes that PhD
students make. The first one is and it’s not a surprising one, is that basically
students spend their first year not getting into their research. Or as one of my
colleagues once said “they just frig around too much!” Now everybody thinks “I’ve got three
years” and they don’t actually realise that three years passes really really
quickly and your first you in some ways is your most important because you need
to get that first year, you need to get that framing right and it’s actually in your
first year to do that. So don’t waste your time thinking that some
amazing idea is going to come to you. Start reading and start writing, and writing
is really important. It’s not something you save up to the end.
It’s something you should do straight away. That’s the first tip. The second tip is
that, and this is a really boring one, you should keep on top of your administration.
A lot of students forget to re-enrol. All of a sudden they stop getting their emails.
They stop getting information about potential scholarships or
opportunities that exist and they wonder what’s happened. And then they have to
catch up and re-enrol and go through all that paperwork. So stay on top of the
administration, check your emails regularly, make sure that you know what’s going on
because you don’t want to miss opportunities that may arise. The third tip is, is that students don’t
career plan. Now we know today that fifty percent of PhD students do not go into
academia. What they actually do is they do other things such as working as
researchers in private organisations, people do startups, they work
for government in policy areas or United Nations, World Bank and so on. Now there’s a lot of processes that you
go through in your PhD, and generally a PhD is about training you to be a world
class researcher but doesn’t actually tell you how you should start thinking
about your career. So one of the things to do while you’re doing your PhD, is start
planning about what you want to do next. Start thinking about well if you want to
do something, say like getting into policy work, what type of things you’re
going to publish, where you’re going to publish, what conferences you’re going
to go to. So start that career planning. This is a really really important element
that’s actually missing from a lot of people’s PhDs. The fourth mistake that a
lot of PhD students make is they cancel meetings with supervisors. They kind of
feel that they shouldn’t, like “I haven’t done enough work so I’m just going to
cancel your meeting with your supervisor” Actually that’s a big mistake to make
and actually when you start cancelling meetings a supervisor, or the Dean in this
case me, get’s really concerned about your progress. So what you’re better off doing is if
you’ve got a meeting coming up sending some information to your supervisor
about what you’ve been doing, even if it’s a couple of paragraphs. Just so they
know the type of thing you’re working on, and you can actually then begin to have
a meeting that’s focused around the type of work you’re doing. So never cancel a
meeting if you can avoid it. I mean if something urgent comes up, sure, but
generally try to avoid it and the best thing to do, or what I always encourage my students
to do is a few days before that meeting send some writing about the type of work
you’re doing or a copy of your lab book or something so your supervisor knows what to talk to
you about and actually then you can begin to kind of formulate a more
decent discussion. And I suppose the fifth mistake that PhD students make is
that they don’t take decent notes during their supervisory meetings. The time that you
spend with your supervisor or your supervisory panel is really important. It’s meant to guide you. You may know
more about a topic than your supervisor by the time you finish your PhD, but what they
know a lot about is the process and the way to frame an argument, and that’s
really important. So often when people, when students meet with their supervisors
they get caught up in the conversation and they don’t take detailed notes, so my
recommendation to you is you always bring some paper, take detailed notes,
summarise them in an email to your supervisor and make sure that you both
agree on what you’ve discussed and which is the way forward. So they’re five mistakes
that PhD students often make and I’ve offered you five solutions on getting around
them. So I hope you enjoy the journey, it’s an
amazing process doing a PhD, so do enjoy it and best of luck.

81 thoughts on “5 Mistakes PhD Candidates Make!

  • Admin is a big one – i wasnt receiving student emails, accidentally didnt pay my student services fee and was un-enrolled!

  • Thanks. I still feel like there is a blank no one reallly can address and each PhD candidate has to muddle through. It is a combination of everything, writing , emotions, feeling blank at times, lonely etc etc. Great tips though Prof.

  • Most people who earn their Ph.Ds don't do research. they just teach 100-300 level undergraduate classes. These people are scum in my book. Never hire someone like that please.

  • But if you just graduated in physics.. you're still gunna have to be learning right? I mean all the math training takes forever how are we supposed to pick what to do when we have no clue what to do? I mean I do we have to get locked into something

  • Thank you very much Professor James Arvanitakis for sharing the 5 common mistakes of PhD Student. You are absolutely right. I had faced exactly these fauts and it costed me an arm and a led.

  • I didn't made any mistake related to that, cause I never started a PhD. Outside from sciences it is useless, wasting lots of money and at least 4 years of time. These four years and approximately 80.000$ are better invested in the own business.

  • Thank you so much. I was just recently provisionally accepted in Prescott College PhD program in Sustainable Education.

    I will keep these in mind…

  • To the best of my knowledge a Ph.D. student does not have any powers over which conference they should attend..its all about what the advisor wants to satisfy his or her own career objectives..so stop misguiding people…

  • I hate these "you gotta get into research asap – research is cool" people. When you come into grad school you know shit – any "research" you can do at that point makes you feel important but is utterly meaningless. And thats a problem with 95% of grad students: over time they learn the skills necessary to complete whatever their advisor asks of them but have such a narrow scope of things they are useless to science. Have an overview, branch out, learn different things and points of view!
    Biggest mistake you can make? Not taking enough classes. If anybody is offering any sort of obscure course on stuff you've never heard about or don't know where its gonna fit in – take it! Time spent learning is never time wasted. If your "advisor" discourages that, change to work with a real scientist!

  • What about mistakes supervisors do? For example what if they want you to work the way THEY work? Do you compromise or ignore them by risking getting in trouble and eventually never get to finish on time??

  • If the supervisor is out of my domain of research and I have not the possibility to change him what can you advice me to advance in my researchs and publish quickly? Thanks

  • Unfortunately, this video was uploaded 3 years after I finished my PhD and I watched it 2 even years after that. Because I did mistakes number 2,3,4, and 5. I had to work in the industry for 3 years to realize that.

    Good advice Prof.

  • Get into an argument with your advisory committee. That's what I did and yet despite this they granted my Ph.D. because I was good at what I did.


  • 1. Time wasters
    2. Administration matters
    3. Career planning
    4. Cancelling meetings (with supervisors)
    5. Note taking (during supervisor meetings)

    You're welcome.

  • The only advice i want to give all research scholars that you all precious one so live your personnel life get married or have gf/bf watch some movies and plan for weekends.

  • Another mistake is doing a PhD in a non inglish speaking country or different native lenguaje than yours, I learned that the hard way

  • Another mistake of doing any degree abroad it's having a fiancee or a relationship, it will fail trust me, just break up.

  • I guess it is a way of convincing yourself you are smart even if no-one else takes any notice and elon musk even drags the whole intellectual enterprise down in favour of volitional enterprise.

  • On the 4th point, it is the sadness when your promotor do not have time to meet with you for about … 6 months, I had that experience

  • Great advice!! The one about cancelling a meeting with supervisor is sooooo on target. Avoid that at all costs.

  • Going to accademia and doing PhD looks like a Valueable and very humanistic view of giving the energy to humankind progress.

    The reality is a different story … burned out professors (at least 40%) ..who let everything be done by doctoral students and feel like kings in their chairs! without being responsible for anyone. And certainly not anyone to answer for in the case of failure! And anyway do not bother the teaching … poor students ..
    The professors having a circle of other professors where they have a mafia structure and funding each other …most of them have no vision!!!!!
    They r just reproducing science has been done before. Most of them in 70thies.
    Please don't go to academia.
    professors will see you like a raw meat and manipulate you and see you as a slave doing his own research work and trying to keep you blind..

  • I've just start James and I'm treating it as a day job with weekend's I sort trivial admin stuff. Keep posting – really appreciate your thoughts.

  • Thankfully, my PhD Advisor was persistent and helpful! Without his gentle pushing and contact I did not procrastinate.

  • mistake #2..actually..not mine.i got rejected from a professor to supervise my phd because i did not think of academia after my phd.he acted like i had to exclusively be a teacher.i told him that its useless to plan so many years ahead and that i see the programme as a challenge that i want to acomplish just for my personal ambition not for a ticket to academia and research.hell i dont know if i am gonna be alive after 4 years or more.Things change we human change we cant make commitments that dont relate to the speedy changes of our times.thank you professor!!i knew i couldnt be that wrong!!!

  • Thanks for the video!Yes, time wasting is a very serious thing. I used my PhD period and published almost 10 articles. One is published in Journal of American Academic Research in USA. I plan to use dissertation period to publish 2 books.

  • You are incredible and this is very helpful thank you. It’s very informative video for PhD fellows. Prof. Prakash Bhosale – PhD help & Forum Mumbai India +91 9137256150 / 8169749264

  • Do ph.d topic gets changed usually?? Once we are admitted to campus by supervisor? I heard it please let me know 👍

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