Strategies to manage the transition into your doctoral research

Develop healthy routines:

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Starting your doctoral research will require a lot of energy to focus on new material and develop new skills.

Your brain will be busy processing new information and learning about new ways of working. Your whole body will experience changes as it adapts to your new environment and new routine.
You will notice the difference in how you structure your day, when you focus on your research, times of meals, when you take breaks, and when you have social time.  It will be good to get into a regular routine as this will be good for your ability to focus and health, and it will allow you to have the energy to manage your various commitments.

If you are an international student, who recently arrived in the UK, you may find that it will take a bit of time to adjust to the differences in culture and environment. At the beginning you may notice that your sleep is altered, and you may feel tired as a result.

To maintain your energy, it is essential to develop healthy routines. Eating well to nurture your body, exercise to strengthen your fitness, and sleep well to maintain an optimum level of energy. Developing healthy habits enables you to pace your energy, and make sure you plan breaks so that you can restore your energy.  Managing your energy is fundamental to feel well and confident as you go about your day.

  1. Communicating in a second language:
    As you are absorbing significant amounts of new information your brain is working hard to process all of it.

    Studying in a second language tends to require extra energy to maintain your focus on learning the language and getting used to a different academic system.

    It will require time to become more proficient and confident in your language skills. Although you may worry about not being able to speak/write well yet, do not let this prevent you from practising the language. Even though you might feel self-conscious speaking in English, practise speaking and writing as much as you can.Instead of trying to speak the language without errors, keep in mind that what matters is to communicate with others.

    If you do not understand something, do ask others to repeat, and they will be understanding as they also want to communicate with you. After a while you will build your confidence and will gradually become more fluent.

  2. Adjusting to doing research:
    During your induction you will receive information from the Graduate School and your department about your doctoral research programme. You will also meet staff and other doctoral researchers.

    In your initial meetings with your supervisor/s clarify what is expected, discuss ways of working and establish ways of communicating that work for all. The key is to develop mutual understanding and agree goals that you can work towards. If you have questions, you can ask them for advice.

    Regarding academic skills you can check the Study Advice website where you will find useful information on study techniques, and more.

    You can also arrange a visit to ask questions which will enable you to make progress with your research.

    For support to write your thesis you can contact the International Study and Language Institute.

    4.Understanding emotions:
    As you start a new project, you are likely to approach it with an optimistic attitude as you look ahead to new possibilities. However, at times you may also experience mixed feelings. These could prevent you from fully enjoying the new adventure, and potentially reduce your confidence in your ability to manage the academic challenges.

Each day look for what was good about your day, and what you learned. If there were some disappointing or frustrating experiences decide what you can learn from the experience, and what you may do different next time.

By keeping an open mind, maintaining a flexible attitude and a sense of curiosity you will be able to identify new opportunities. As you give yourself the opportunity to explore you will eventually find what works for you.

6. Making social connections:
During the first few weeks you are likely to be filled with a sense of curiosity, interest and excitement, as well as a little unease as you feel new and not sure about how things will unfold.

For those of you who are new to Reading, and away from your family and friends, you may notice that you miss being nearby. In your previous environment you knew the people around you and had established relationships with them, and you also were familiar with how things were done. In the beginning you are likely to notice differences and may compare with what you are used to.

At first it may feel awkward and uncomfortable to notice differences, although overall learning new things will be stimulating. It could also be a bit unsettling. As you get to know more, and you begin to find your way around, you will gradually notice that things begin to feel more familiar and that you are getting to know other doctoral researchers who you can relate to.

When being away from home relationships with family and friends will go through some changes too as you adjust to your different activities and establish a work pattern. Fortunately, digital technology makes it easy to keep in contact with them, share how things are developing for you, and be able to continue to nurture your relationships with them.

However, to support your integration, it is helpful that at first you delay contacting them and instead contact people around you. Then, when you speak with your family and friends you can tell them about your day and what you have learned.

You can join the weekly group discussions at the Graduate School, a Tuesday morning (11am-12pm),where you can meet other doctoral researchers, and discuss topics related to doing your doctoral research.

Wishing you a stimulating time, and that you have rewarding experiences during the year that you are now beginning.


Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.