Tips for PhD Students for their second Year of PhD
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Tips for PhD Students for their 2nd Year of PhD

Hi everyone! A couple of days ago, I’ve discussed the most important lessons you will learn during your first year in PhD. Again, thank you for reading my article and I’m glad that you enjoyed reading each lesson while correlating it with your experience.

Since I’m done with advising the freshmen, I want to share another set of tips for PhD students who are in the second year of their PhD journey and for those who are just about to enter their sophomore year.

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The truth is, you don’t stop learning lessons after surviving your first year. Many successful PhD graduates would tell you that the second year is the most crucial year of any PhD journey.

This time, you are expected to have already reached a firm decision regarding your thesis topic. In fact, most PhD programs would require students to submit a progress report and research plan which usually consists around 500-2000 words during their second year.

The question is are you ready with your research paper? Or are you still feeling wishy-washy with the process?

Either way, learning some of these important PhD student tips will save you a lot of troubles in reaching another milestone.

Tip 1: Create a definite workflow structure

It’s not until you reach the second level of your PhD program will you realize that you’re still uncertain about a lot of things. This is a common dilemma especially for student correspondence who work from home.

Sometimes, when you’re left to yourself, it’s easy to feel tedious. Loneliness and insecurity can darken the doors to your most productive days.

How can you cope with this? Well, one of my important tips for PhD students who are in this situation is to create a work schedule.

An ideal work schedule must provide a strategic work flow that you can follow to proceed with your research on a regular basis. Whether you like it or not, you must get yourself together.

For example, how many pages must you aim to finish today? When are you planning to re-examine the data samples that you collected three days ago?

Set goals for everyday and create your own deadlines to motivate you to keep going. Then, make sure you have a reward for yourself after reaching every goal. This will keep you doing better every day.

Tip 2: Know your preferences

Everyone has a unique way of gaining focus. Some students can work comfortably with their lab mates while others are more productive when they are alone.

There are also some who prefer working outside the lab while others like working inside the lab. As you see, you need to know your preference so you can work efficiently.

Determine your weak and strong spots, then focus only on the latter. To do this, you can follow guiding questions like the following:

When you’re reading a scientific paper, do you prefer reading a hard copy or are you more comfortable reading it through your computer?

Are you the kind who can multi-task or do you prefer finishing one chapter before jumping to another?

Tip 3: Find your drive

Almost every person in their second year will tell you how exasperated they are. Oftentimes, you’ll hear more complaints and rants about strong feelings of isolation than having a good time.

If you’re feeling the same way, acknowledge that this is a normal part of every PhD journey. But you will be okay soon.

The secret in surviving the hurdles of getting a PhD degree is to not force yourself. If you’re tired, take rest. Stroll along your university corridor and have a little chitchat with friends.

Sometimes, making yourself feel guilty over simple pleasures like shopping, will make you feel more motivated to make up for your thesis the next day.

When you’re in your second year, you must learn to grasp the essence of self-help. Stop blaming other people or your university for your hardships. Rather, find the things that drives the spirit in you.

Tip 4: Recall why you entered PhD in the first place

Have you ever come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t have started in the first place?

When you’re in your second year, there are a lot of factors that will leave you doubting yourself. These can include financial problems, loneliness, or peer pressure.

Sometimes school-related factors like a vague supervisor, lack of laboratory, or failure of experiments can drive you crazy. And you feel like you’re not getting a PhD anymore.

Hey, don’t give up just yet. If you get caught in this situation, try to remember why you decided to take up a PhD in the first place.

Recall how happy you were every time you made progress during your first year. How did you make it? Is it possible that you can find that drive again and continue your journey?

Try to imagine how happy your family can be if they find out you’re graduating. Just be positive and believe in yourself.


Tip 5: Find an alternative place to conduct your research

One of the most common problems that many PhD students have is the lack of working space. At least 30 percent of students in small universities have to run experiments in lecture rooms, in between classes.

If this is your case, don’t stick to what the university has. Be more creative and find an alternative place where you can conduct your experiments. For example, you can turn your own garage into a working space.

Another option is to find whether there are space-for-rents around the city that perfectly suits your experiments. If possible, spend more time doing your research outside, focus on collecting data, and do your experiments one-time-big-time.

Tip 6: Find another supervisor

Your second year in PhD is just the perfect time to develop a good working relationship with your supervisor. However, not all relationships can progress successfully.

At some point, your supervisor might pressure you to focus on another topic which is totally different from what you’re interested in. Sometimes, your supervisor is too vague, and you wish you have the wits to point out these issues. But you just can’t… because you’re afraid that your supervisor might retaliate by failing you.

Casual difficulties and disagreements can lead to estranged relationship that pushes you to become less and less productive.

If you believe that your personalities are ultimately incompatible, you need a good break-up strategy. For example, you can talk to the science department first and ask advice regarding possible options concerning your situation. If you’re brave enough, you can have an open dialogue with your supervisor to discuss the issues.

In worst case scenarios, you can write a formal letter informing your supervisor that you’re taking a semester off or you’re changing the scope of your thesis.

Just remember when you sever your relationship with your supervisor, do not ever hold grudge. Avoid making enemies with a person who has power in the science department because you’re not sure how bad things can go against you while they’re on top.

Tip 7: Be open to changes

Similar with your relationship with your supervisor, the direction of your thesis can also change depending on your findings.

If your experiments yield different results, it’s probably time to adjust. Your supervisor may also advise you to change the scope of your thesis due to new discoveries and sudden experimental changes, and it is not bad at all.

Your second year of PhD is a time of experimentation, discoveries, and deeper research. Along with the process are significant changes that you have to accept.

My advice for you is to just go with the flow. Inform your supervisor about the changes and ask for advice about the best way to deal with them. Perform further experiments to test whether your data would yield the same results.

Then, explore the potential impact of the changes and check whether it is beneficial to you. Otherwise, be open to bigger changes in your research. You may possibly need to replace your research topic or take advantage of the situation to perform new tests.

Tip 8: Watch thesis defense presentations

The best way to mentally motivate yourself is to watch thesis defense presentations. Thesis defense is definitely one of the most nerve-wracking experience you’ll ever have.

Whether you like it or not, you’re going to defend your thesis sooner or later. So try to watch some thesis defense presentations and take note of how the researchers set up their research and arguments.

Highly intellectual experience like this can stimulate your brain and inspire you to push more with your thesis. It helps you learn the most effective ways to answer questions from the panel members. It also gives you an idea about how judges think so you can make relevant modifications in your thesis before you take the hot seat.

Sometimes, when you sit there, a lot of ideas can suddenly pop in your head and you’re ready to write again.

Tip 9: Have a “Question and Answer” drill with your friends or lab mates

The best way to spot issues that you probably have overlooked and to prepare for unforeseen questions is to practice with your friends.

Have others take a look at your thesis and let them throw you some questions on the sections that you have already finished.

Even though these questions may not be the actual questions that you’ll be asked by the panel members, they help open your mind to further possibilities.

Practice helps build your confidence and expand your vision over your thesis paper. Who knows, your friend might ask a very significant question which can only be answered by running another test on the data you have collected.

Tip 10: Just be positive

All these tips that you have read today simply boil down into one major advice – just be positive.

Whatever happens during your second year, don’t lose your spirit. Whether it is good or bad, always focus on what you have dreamt of becoming – that is a PhD degree holder.

Always remember, nobody has ever lost by simply being positive.

So those are all my tips for PhD students who are in their sophomore year and for those who are still deciding to enroll. I hope that these tips are helpful in your PhD journey.

Please feel free to drop some comments below. I would be more than happy to respond to you personally.

Read Also :

How to Successfully Survive First Year of your PhD

Shekhar Suman is the CEO & Managing Director of BioTecNika Info Labs Pvt Ltd, An avid reader who is passionate about Bio Sciences and has gifted us BioTecNika


  1. Hi! I am a second year PhD student.
    very well written article. You have exactly mentioned the scenario and the tips were just perfect. I am looking for a book describing a journey including Dos and Don’ts of a PhD student. I was wondering if any such books are there. I would love to read that. please suggest me some if you know it and keep writing more article about tips for PhD students. preferably on how to write manuscript.
    Thank you.

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