At our faculty we have more than 700 active PhD-students across the whole range of topics within mathematics, natural sciences and technology. As a basis for starting on the journey towards a PhD-degree these students have completed a regular education with good grades. A majority of the PhD-students start their work directly after finishing their master thesis. However, we also have new PhD-students with some experience from industry and public sector before they start on their journey towards becoming a researcher.
When new students arrive at our faculty we have an introductory day and here are my list of general advices to new PhD-students:
The nature of research
My first advice to every PhD-student is to use some time to understand the nature of research. This is not very easy, since the real understanding of the nature of research comes as a result of being a researcher. Research is systematic development of new knowledge, and from my point of view it is one word in this sentence that is particularly important. Systematic, because in order to find new knowledge you need to know what is already known. Research is a global activity, and you have to seek knowledge on the international scene. Your supervisors are of course the important guides into this scene, which can be overwhelming in the beginning.
I will not go into more details one this. The nature of research has to be felt, and one can argue that the understanding of the nature of research is to find an answer to a philosophical question!
All our PhD-students have two or more supervisors and these persons are of course your most important guides towards a PhD thesis. However, my second advice is to seek collaboration with fellow PhD-students, both locally among students in your own research group and relevant research groups around the world. Being on the international scene from day one is of course impossible, but after some time you will meet fellow PhD-students on workshops and conferences. Although, there is and will always be a competition on the research scene, be generous and share your knowledge and results with others. In some situations this can be difficult, but at the end of the day everyone will gain from it!
Research is a global collective effort based on cultivation of individual skills, hence all individuals will gain by sharing results and experiences with each other.
Planning your work
When you get your scholarship you have either 3 years in front of you, or 4 years with one manyear of duty work. Three years of work is a short time, so it is important to make a good plan for your work. This plan will of course differ from area to area. However, the first thing to do is to set some targets and milestones for your research production, and when during your studies you are going to take the compulsory courses needed to fulfil your thesis. The most important thing, however, is to start writing science from day one (although some of the stuff you write down will not be used in your final thesis). The most important skill for a researcher is the ability to communicate the results and this is primarily done through writing, and good writing requires exercise. I have not forgot that oral presentations and visualizing (picturing) your science is also important. Planning is important and if you look at your PhD work as a project, which you should do, you can say that you are your own project manager.
Pain and joy
Seeking new knowledge can also be painful, partly because you will, from time to time, not understand what is going on, experiments fails, or something else may happen. However, you will also feel the greatest joy when you have discovered something new that no other people in the entire world has discovered or developed before. In general, i will say that some pain is necessary to feel this enormous joy. So, my fourth advice is to stay through painful periods, and also here it is good to talk to fellow students and I can guarantee that everyone will have this feeling from time to time. All PhD-student feel doubt and this is natural. How severe, that will of course differ. Have trust in your project and the process towards a PhD-degree and do not forget that it is hard work.
The flow of ideas and possibilities in research are always much higher than what can be done with available time resources. Through the journey towards a PhD thesis you have to make many decision on what to do, and probably more important what not to do! My fifth advice is to frequently discuss this with your supervisors, and to a certain extent this is also the most important role for any supervisor.
Every PhD-student should think about his or her future career, and this should be done from day one. Most PhD-candidates wants an academic career and this desire is both correct and healthy. However, we also know that the number of academic positions are limited. The competition is extremely hard! There are of course positions in research organizations outside universities, in industry and public sector, and do not forget that deep scientific knowledge, research competence and research thinking is important in almost all branches of society. My final advice is therefore, as early as possible in your journey towards a PhD-thesis, to seek knowledge about what are the possible paths for your future career. There are many opportunities, both in Norway and all over the world!
And finally, your thesis can be the basis for the creation of new products, solutions and services in the society. The University of Oslo has a strong record when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship and a lot os support can be found in the system. Investigate this opportunity as early as possible during your PhD-work, at least to understand what it is all about.
Every year we organize a day dedicated to our PhD-candidates and here you have a video from the opening of the PhD-day 2015 where the minister for research and education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, gave the opening talk.