Tag Archives: Postgrad

Necessary Skills for a Successful PhD student

So you have got the PhD checklist and you have brushed up on your time management skills but what other skills are you going to need to get through this PhD?


So that chart may look a bit scary (particularly as this is not even an extensive list) but here’s the good news – you must already have some of those skills otherwise you would not have come this far in your academic career.

However it is a good idea to identify any weaknesses you have at the START of your PhD. That way you can you can:

a)      Plan for where you have difficulties / tasks will take you a bit longer to complete

b)      You will be less stressed when it comes to the really important stuff like doing the data analysis, writing up and getting published.

c)       You will finish your PhD with more and / or stronger skills than you had before

One way of improving your skills (particularly IT skills) is through sessions that your University might provide. Although you may be tempted not to sign up to these sessions because they can take time out of your working week, they will be worth it in the end. So if you sign up to these early (in your 1st year) then at least these sessions won’t be eating into precious time to write up your work.

The careers service at your university should also be able to point you in the direction of workshops / seminars etc. both internal and external to help you with your personal development.

Sounds like a good idea? But wondering how you are going to fit it all in and keep track of it all?

Well there are tools that can help you with improving your skills and help you keep tabs on your progress!

One of the good resources that I know of is the Vitae Researcher Development Framework Planner


This tool allows you to identify areas of improvement and keep records of what you have done to make improvements. What I really like about it is that it allows you to set deadlines for improvements which helps motivate you to actively change your skill set so you do make improvements at your own pace.

Alternatively you could set up plans / time scales using programmes such as Excel and Project planner*.

Well that’s it from me. I hope my final piece of advice is useful to you, putting you ahead of the game before you have even started. Have fun and good luck!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

*other programs available.


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Impactful impact statements and more…

Applications are something we all have to fill out so…


Here’s my stress-free to an easy application process


*ideas don’t necessarily have to be awesome but, write it so your personality shines through and please…. DON’T LIE.

– Application forms and all their subsections are a way to get to know a prospective PhD candidate. It allows them to assess your knowledge, passion and motivations to working in an academic environment over the next three years. Don’t panic, if you’re this far into the process, you are clearly interested in academia in one way or another, find your niche, show your passion and put that across in your written application



–    Write down things you are involved in; both academic and extracurricular activities and identify the role you take and what you’ve learnt. Provide some examples of teaching, as PhD studentships often have an element of teaching undergrads.


– Everyone has had interesting experiences, WRITE THEM DOWN!

– Not everyone goes on gap years or has travelled round the southern hemisphere (other hemispheres included) but that doesn’t matter. At least identify things you’ve done that relate to the position you’re applying for.  Just because you scaled Everest blindfolded, doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to walk into a PhD. Make sure you have relevant experience which shows you can use your initiative, are hard-working and that you can communicate with a variety of people. Potential supervisors want to know that you are reliable.


–   Show your passion for research and your ideas about the current direction your chosen field is going in.


Running low on ideas?

Here’s some buzzwords to help you through >>>>



Deep thinker






KISS – NO, Not that type of kiss.


More importantly…. Don’t let this be you!!!!


There’s more helpful titbits here:


– Dr. Double D 


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Presentation, presentation, presentation!


Presentations……”yay!” Nobody particularly likes having to give presentations but we all have to do it at some point and you will almost definitely be asked to prepare one for your PhD interview. So Dr. Neo and I have a few tips to help you prepare.

So there are 3 different things you need to think about:

  1. What you are presenting
  2. How you are presenting it
  3. How are you presenting yourself

What you are presenting.

-Research what you are going to talk about.


– Have you narrowed the area down to the relevant bits? Nobody wants to hear the whole history of something (unless that is literally what the title of the project is – but even then you need to focus on the main bits).

-Put your own spin on it. Make sure that your point of view is expressed (with evidence to back up your opinion of course).

How are you presenting it?



–          Tone of voice. Keep it appropriate to the subject but make sure it shows your enthusiasm. Also if you tend to have a monosyllabic voice try to work on this. It is likely to make any topic sound dull and that you are not that enthusiastic about it when you rally are.

–          Choice of language. Colloquial terms are not appropriate and if you are going to use abbreviations explain them first.

–          Posture. Stand tall and face the interviewers. This will demonstrate that you are confident and that you know what you are going to say. Try not to turn your back to the interviewers for long periods of time when you are explaining graphs etc

–          Are the interviewers straining to hear you or are you too loud? Practice with some friends to get a feel for how loud you need to be.

You also need to think about your presentation slides:

–          Are they clear?

–          Too many words on each slide?

–          Appropriate images / graphs /tables etc?

–          Logical flow e.g intro à main body à summary


How are you presenting yourself?

You may think that this was all covered in the previous bit but there is more!

You also need to think about what you are going to wear. You may think that this is not really that important and that you have more important things to be thinking about, but you do need to put some thought into it. How you physically present says a lot about you as a person.

–          Without a doubt you need to dress in smart clothes. This means guys really should be in suits with a tie and guys should wear a smart shirt and skirt / trousers or dress.

–          Think about patterns and colours. This applies to girls and guys! If you wear colours that compliment each other and you haven’t put lots of different clashing patterns together then it shows that you have thought about your outfit and that you are a “well put together person”.

–          Make sure that no matter what you wear that it is clean, it actually fits you and that you have ironed it.

So to sum up my tips:

-Research your topic.

-Practice your presentation.

-Think about how you are coming across as a person.

And generally:

“Prepare to fail, don’t fail to prepare!”

Good Luck

-Dr Fran-kenstein

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Writing a CV

graduates with honours cant write a cv

So you are filling out that application form and a CV is being requested. As if there are enough ways of formatting your CV it’s slightly different when applying for jobs in academia. For jobs academia (including PhDs) you are really being asked to produce your academic CV. As I’m sure you have already guessed this type of CV should be focused on the academic work such as your undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations and any relevant experiences.  This is not to say that you cannot mention a part time job that wasn’t in an academic environment such as being a sales assistant, but that this type of work should not take priority on your academic CV.

So what should you include?


For your undergraduate and / or postgraduate degree(s):

-What was your degree?

-What degree classification?

– Title of your dissertation

– Who supervised this project?

– What grade were you awarded for your dissertation?

Relevant Employment

In this section you need to mention any paid employment that is relevant to the job. For example if the PhD that you are applying for is in the field of Dementia then you would want to mention any relevant experiences such as working in care home for people with Dementia.

–          Position held

–          Name of organisation

–          Start – end of employment mm/yyyy  e.g  June 2013-December 2013

–          Brief description of your role. Note the emphasis on keeping it brief. Potential employers will have several CVs to read. Therefore you want to make sure that they have a good idea of who you are and what experience you have without having to trawl through pages and pages of info!

Other Employment

This is where you can mention part time / summer jobs that you have held but aren’t relevant to the field of work that you are trying to enter. It’s still important to mention this type of work because usually they demonstrate that you have other key skills such as working in a team or using supervision effectively. However as previously mentioned you don’t want to end up with a CV that is more than 2 or 3 pages at the most*! So if you already have your CV filled by the above sections and your contact details then consider not including this section.

Academic Achievements

This is actually quite an important section. This section is where you need to include conferences that you have presented your work at, any publications or if you were awarded any scholarships for your undergraduate postgraduate degrees.

Voluntary Work / Other Achievements

So if you have done some voluntary work that’s great! It’s a great way of gaining some experience and may give you an advantage when you are looking for paid work. But it is generally not rated as highly as paid employment. Therefore this is another section that you may not wish to include if you feel that it does not add anything to your CV other than to the length of it.

(You can format this in the same way as you have done for paid employment).

Contact details and Referees

that awkward moment email address

So hopefully you have a professional email address by now! If not now would be a good time…

Your contact details are important – so make sure you get them right. You want them to contact you, particularly if they are going to invite you to an interview right?

You may want to include referees on your CV but you need to think about this. First of all if you want to list referees and contact details make sure that the referees are happy for you to do this beforehand. Second, by doing this you are basically giving out the message to potential employers that you have referees that are

a) going to give you a good reference

b) happy to be contacted at whatever stage in the application process – meaning that the potential employer could assume that you are giving them consent to ask for references. Therefore employers may not notify you that they have done this until afterwards. This works for some people but others may want to check that they are still going to get a good reference first. You may want to check this if it was some time since you worked with that person. Do they still remember you?  Are you still on good terms? If you are using a referee you worked with a some time ago are they still appropriate?


As if knowing what you should / should not put on your CV, how you should / should not phrase it (and actually having the motivation to do it) wasn’t stressful enough, there is the issue of formatting it.

Key point of your CV – It’s to get you SHORTLISTED for an interview. Therefore you want to make sure that the format that you use makes your CV clear, simple and easy to read. Let the information do the talking not the format. That means don’t do things such as using different coloured text to make your CV “stand out” or to make you appear “creative”. (Yes people have been known to do this for these purposes and it has made them stand out as UNSUITABLE)!

There are some pretty cool websites out there like visualresume.com that can help you build / format your CV. Although it may be tempting to go for one of those funky looking formats they are generally not suitable for academia.

Just keep it simple:

-Black text, 12pt in fonts that are widely used such as Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri.

– Separate section with spaces (not too large though) or with horizontal lines (they don’t need to span the whole way across the page).

-Make headings / titles clear using bold or making the text slightly larger.

Finishing touches

Finally when you have developed enough motivation to write your CV, using a checklist (such as the one below) may help you feel that you produced something that you would be proud to show others, a sense of achievement and confident that it will shortlist you for that interview.

CV Checklist:

-Is your name is on it? (Ideally at the top)

– Checked it for grammar and spelling?

– Do you have a copy to keep?

-Does it accentuate your skills?

-Does this CV give an overall positive impression of you?

– Should you get shortlisted for interview would you be happy be asked questions about the information on your CV? (You haven’t lied have you)?

Hopefully this has inspired you to get writing your CV for that application. So open up that word document and get typing!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

*Once you get into the world of academia then longer CVs are acceptable (as long as it’s all relevant info). This is because the length of your CV should have increased if lots of you work has been published! Also be careful when looking for any other info regarding academic C’s – it might be more relevant for after you have completed your PhD.

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The glorious world of PhD hunting: An intro to your fellow Ninjas

Hi Internet! We’re FLED, the team behind ThePhDNinja. Over the coming weeks we’ll be posting all sorts of facts, guides and helpful hints about applying for PhDs, including: deciding whether a PhD is for you, where to look for PhDs and funding sources, how to present yourself on paper and in an interview, and much more. By bringing all this information together in ThePhDNinja, we hope to create a useful starting point for anyone thinking of pursuing a PhD. Our main focus will be on PhD’s relating to Psychology (as that’s what we know best!), but the information should be generalisable to other subject areas too.

-Hi, I’m Lucy and I’ll be posting on topics such as: ‘Is a PhD for you?’, ‘Writing a Research Proposal’, and ‘Interview Questions: The good, the bad and the mind-freezingly terrifying’. My main interests lie in the areas of neuroimaging, social neuropsychology, sci-fi, kittens and procrastination (which is why I’ll be teaching you all what NOT to do in my time management post later on). If you would like to know more about any of the topics I cover then please leave a comment under the post and I’ll do my best to answer your question.

Dr. L

-I’m Daniella, one of the PhD Ninjas, paid (I wish… I am actually doing this voluntarily), to help fight the demons of anything and everything PhD related. Ok, so let me introduce myself: I am a Big Bang Theory worshiper, a cognitive neuroscience geek and a massive foodie!!! Oh and a postrgrad psychology student. I am also an aspiring Neuroscientist so, if you want to know what’s what in regards to having a career in academia, I am the girl to ask. As well as this, I’ll give you a breakdown, tick by tick, of the ominous timeline of events leading up to becoming a PhD student. Trust me; they are not as scary as they sound!!!!! Along side my fellow Ninjas I will tweet, blog and post words of advice, caution and warning on various topics to help you find perfect the PhD.

Dr. Double D

-Hi I’m Fran and I’m another member of the PhD Ninja team. I am mainly interested in neuropsychology! When I’m not studying I am doing artsy crafty things, photography, baking (and eating) cakes. But for the next few weeks I am here to help you on your quest to become a PhD student. In particular I will be helping you start your search for a PhD studentship as well as hunting for the elusive project funding. Once that part is complete I will help you seal the deal with prepping your CV and brushing up those presentation skills. Hopefully with this week by week guide we will make this process a little less daunting!

Dr. Fran-kenstein

-Hey there! My name’s Elena and I’ll also be taking you through the whirlwind journey that is finding and bagging a PhD! I’ve been working as a research assistant in a cognitive neuroscience lab whilst also doing my masters in clinical neuropsychology for a year or so now, and I’ll be starting my PhD in the same lab in February 2014. Through this blog I’ll be taking you through a few important things you need to know about getting a PhD, including: approaching academics/potential supervisors, giving presentations on your work, interview Dos and Don’ts, as well as how to survive your PhD! In between I intend to keep you fully entertained with pictures of kittens, posts about pizza, and anything else I find on my journey of procrastination whilst preparing for my own PhD.

Happy hunting followers!

Dr. Neo

You can find us on tumblr: thephdninja.tumblr.com, right here on wordpress, and we’ll be tweeting about it all as we go @ThePhDninja. We hope you find our posts helpful as you make your way through the dizzying world of PhD applications and, of course, we wish you all the best of luck!

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