March 02, 2012

Tips for A Research Student

Being a research student myself for almost 5 years, there are a few things that I'd like to share with you. Things that have helped me to survive the research world (as a student).  These are some of the important tips that I can remember. I may add some more tips in the future. Feel free to share it with your friends.

1. You need to have a log book to record every single research activity that you do everyday. If you are dealing with computer simulations/ experiments, make sure you write down in details all steps/procedures involved. You may think that it is okay if you don't write it down because you are pretty sure you can still remember the steps/techniques tomorrow, but trust me, you will find it very useful later especially when you go for holiday, all things that you remember about your research work will somehow evaporate into the air.

(Image Source: PhD Comics)

2. Same goes to your ideas. Jot it down as soon as you came across into it and it clicks into your mind. For instance if you suddenly got an idea on how to organise your thesis, or someone gave you an idea on your research, write it down immediately or else you'll forget about it. Hence, a note book is essential and you should bring it everywhere you go.

3. If your supervisor prefers that you work independently (Read: Less supervision), the first thing that you have to do is try to read as many as possible literature reviews on that particular topic. But you have to make sure that your supervisor agrees with the topic. Then, find a paper/papers (preferably journal paper with impact factor), try to duplicate the results from this paper. Learn about the methods proposed in the paper and from there you can expand and evolve the ideas and finally you will come out with something new/ improved method from the previous one. Working in your research group is another good way to do your research where you can exchange ideas with your colleagues.

4. As a research student you need to have the capability to work on your own. This means that no one will force you to do your research work, even your supervisor. For example if you are doing course work study (postgraduate study with examination), you will work extra hard during examination period because if you fail your test/exam, you will get bad result or you'll be expelled from the university. You are also required to do your assignment and submit it to your lecturer if you are a coursework student. But for research student, it is up to you whether you want to be a good student or a lazy student. Maybe you need to hand in some reports for your supervisor but your final result is whether you pass your viva or you fail it, and that will be about 2 or 3 years in time from the first day you registered. Therefore, self awareness is very important, meaning that if you value your money and your time, work hard from the beginning. Stay focus.

(Image source: PhD Comics)

5. Record all meetings that you have with your supervisor. Some important things that you need to write in your minutes of meeting are date, time and place, attendance (who else in the meeting), important topics discussed during meeting, and any resolutions agreed in the meeting. This is very important because firstly, by doing this it’ll remind you on what you have to do until the next meeting, and secondly  if something bad happen between you and your supervisor (hopefully not), then you have recorded it all. And oh one more thing, always always always bring something (Read: New results) when you want to meet your supervisor. Don't just attend the meeting for the sake of showing to your supervisor that you come to school everyday. Be prepared  before the meeting, and during the meeting bring your latest results so that you can discuss with your supervisor and get input from him/her.
(Image source: PhD Comics)

6. This is very important tip. Once you produce any results, and the results are different with existing methods/state-of-the-art techniques, book your seat in the research world by publishing them in a conference paper or better yet a journal paper. Do this fast as you do not know how many researchers out there are doing the exact same thing as you do and they may have the same ideas/methods and do the same experiment with you with the same objective. By doing this at least they can refer to your work or cite your paper if they want to publish similar paper as yours (but of course with different results). The results that you obtained do not have to be significantly different with other papers but substantial difference is enough to get your work published.

(Image Source: Google)

7. Along the journey as a research student, you may come to a low moment when an obstacle comes racing across your research path. Your research may presents you with seemingly awful surprises when you are least expecting them. Whatever it is, do not give up. The best thing to do is stop your work, take a break for 1 or 2 days (perhaps shorter/longer depending on the situation), and come back to work with a renewable energy and motivation. Sit down, relax, and try to figure out what and where things have gone wrong. Try to talk to your colleague(s), discuss with your supervisor and find out whether you can fix the problem or not. Listen to your supervisor advice and if you think it is not worth it if you continue to fix the problem, move on, just leave it behind. After all, life goes on mate.

(Image Source: PhD comics)

8. Conversely, when you come to a high moment (e.g. you are very happy because your supervisor like your work, or your paper is accepted in a journal), celebrate your happiness for a short time and quickly come back to work. Don’t be over the moon for so long because let’s face it, it won’t last forever. In other words, you have not finished your study yet and there is still a long way to go before you can finally graduate. As I mentioned before, stay focus throughout your study.

9. Spend some times to learn new techniques/skills that are related to your research work from the fundamental. For example, for a work that requires programming skill, if you are not a proficient user of a particular programming language; start to learn from the beginning. You can try to find ‘A *** for dummy’ kind of book so that you can really understand the technique. Do not just jump into source code and try to amend it to generate result, or else you will encounter with more errors. This also applies to work that involves experiment. Learn the necessary skills from your colleagues or technician before you start your experiment. Owh one more thing, attend any seminars/classes/workshops held in your campus even if they are slightly related to your area. Make full use of the modern facilities offered by your university.

10.  Finally, stay positive. In the sense that be positive about everything, everyone. Do not talk bad about other people. Do not think negative about others. Build a close relationship with Allah, perform your prayers regularly on time. If anything that is less favourable occurs, do not blame others. Somehow, don’t blame yourself either but take this as a challenge to improve yourself. I do not know about other people, but if someone did bad things to me/ talked bad things about me, it will only make me stronger and I feel the sudden urge to prove to them that I am a much better person than they are. Of course this tip is applicable even if you are not a student.

Lastly, enjoy your journey as a research student. Grow the interest in your research area. Be thankful of what you have become now and make sure every little penny spent for your studies is worth it.


  1. thanks kak jah.very2 useful.

  2. untuk budak sains soSial boleh guna dok?