Things to know before starting your PhD

4 minute read


Things to know before starting your PhD

So you decided to embark on the PhD journey. It may have been your dream for a very long time, and you are now in the midst of deciding where to go for your PhD. The decision you will take will have a lasting impact on your life, be it on your professional or even personal life, so you may want to take some time reading what is below and thinking about it as well.

Most of the points discussed below come from my own observations and experience. At the end of the day, academia is career similar to others, the competition can be fierce and the PhD part is only the first step of a course that will hopefully lead you to your dream job.

The Location (University)

Before we even start discussing labs and advisors, let us discuss location. A key point in academia is that it is usually (nearly always) a good idea to be willing to move around when going down that road. At some point during your career, you will thus very likely need to go somewhere else.

General Rules

There are exceptions to every rule, but it may be hard to become an assistant professor/lecturer in the same university where you did your PhD. If your dream is to become an assistant professor in your University of your Home Town, you should consider going to another university first. If you do not, then doing a postdoctoral contract somewhere else should (or may) increase your chance of getting a job in your home town.

Academic Inbreeding

The main reason behind that seemingly strange rule is that there is such a thing as academic inbreeding wiki. By staying in a given place your whole life, you will learn how to do research on topics that everyone else in that location is already covering, following the same method as everybody else. Going somewhere else will allow you to learn new ways of doing things, and as such, bring something unique to a university.

Academic Ranking of Universities does not matter

This topic is rather sensitive. My personal rule of thumb is that the reputation or ranking of your future advisor and lab matters more than the ranking of your university. Rankings usually show an average performance across so many different majors that it may not really represent how good researchers are in your field. As such, I would usually advise not worrying too much about that part. Obviously, highly ranked universities tend to have highly ranked/famous professors, but it may happen that the best option for you may be a low ranking university with a very good advisor in your field.

Academic Ranking may still matter

An exception to the rule above is that the university where you got your PhD from may matter for future employers. Some universities would only hire graduates from a top 10 university. To find out, simply check the profile of the other professors in your dream university and where they got their PhD from, or ask your academic advisor.

Going Overseas?

In some countries, going overseas to do a PhD is an official (or sometimes unofficial) requirement to have a chance to get a good position later. To find out, you may simply check the profile of the professors in your dream university and where they got their PhD degrees, or again, ask your academic advisor.

Choosing a university to do your PhD may very well depend on the advisors available. You may want to go for a familiar environment, but it may hurt your prospects in the long run. Similarly, as PhD is a journey to learning and creatingnew knowledge, challening yourself by going to an unfamiliar place may add to the journey.

The Advisor

Junior vs. Senior



Supervision Style

The Lab

Lab Atmosphere

Number of Students

Lab Hierarchy

The Topic

Choose a topic you like

Make sure you can get support from your advisor