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  • Writer's picturePepe Bonet

8 Rules for a PhD

This blog comes from reading Jordan B. Peterson's book named 12 rules for life. I thought it would be interesting to write a blog, based on my experience, on the eight rules for a PhD. As expressed several times, this is a personal opinion, I might be biased, and some people might think otherwise. However, I believe that following some of these rules can help you during the course of your PhD. Bear in mind that I say some of them because I have failed to follow some others already. However, I still put all of them together here because it would have helped me extensively to know this before my PhD.

Rule 1.- Be consistent

Rule 2.- Learn as a top priority

Rule 3.- Take advantage of what the program offers

Rule 4.- Expand into something else

Rule 5.- Embrace your progress

Rule 6.- Do not compare

Rule 7.- Be patient

Rule 8.- Make friends

Rule 1.- Be consistent

I will say it as many times as needed: The PhD is a marathon, not a 100m run. If you do not want to drive yourself into burnout, treat your PhD as a process, a journey in which you evolve and improve. Above everything, I would recommend focusing on being consistent. Consistency will bring results, implies hard work, and a mental statement focused on achieving long-term goals. Keep the following sentence in mind, which is even more true in the PhD environment: "Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard." Therefore, be consistent in your work and research, and results will come.

Rule 2.- Learn as a top priority

As mentioned in previous blogs, the PhD may bring you the best opportunity to learn one can have. Please, do not take this for granted. Most times, one comes into the PhD with little understanding of the project itself or what needs to be done. Therefore, the opportunities to keep growing and learning are there from the start. Use them and put learning as a top priority because those possibilities may not be as present as the PhD evolves or, at least, towards the end.

Rule 3.- Take advantage of what the program offers

Be proactive. PhD programs, scholarships, universities, and research centers offer a variety of options for students to get trained in different skills. Take advantage of these options and develop new skills or improve the ones you already have. If you want to learn, you are consistent, and you are proactive, the chances are that you will be able to grow above your expectations, and you are a long way into feeling good about your PhD.

Rule 4.- Expand into something else

This one may be related to rule number three. However, here we are talking about something beyond your PhD. It is about your deepest feelings. If you are working in an experimental lab but want to explore how the UN works with crises like Covid-19, go for it. If your goal is to build a company and need some additional courses in a business school, go for it. Bottom line, do not be afraid because you are doing a PhD, it might be the best time to expand yourself into something else. Matterfactly, the skills you acquire through your PhD are transferable into many other disciplines.

Rule 5.- Embrace your progress

We have widely mentioned that the PhD is a process that develops you mentally and makes you grow as an individual. However, this process is not easy. The fact that results do not come immediately makes it notably complicated. Therefore, to compensate for that lack of reward through results, one needs to be self-aware of the progress one makes. For that reason, and to keep a positive mentality, it is essential to embrace your progress. Otherwise, one can fall into a self-attack mode just for not accomplishing results, entering into a vicious cycle that is not leading anywhere and will only affect your mental health.

Rule 6.- Do not compare

In my opinion, this is one of the critical rules if you want to feel good about your PhD. Learn from people, take their advice, look at their paths to get ideas, but do not compare. How can comparing yourself to others can help you? If you "win" the comparison, you think you are better than somebody, and if you lose, you feel less of yourself. What a lose-lose outcome! Let me tell you something: there are amazing people in academia. You will "lose" the comparison battle if you try to get in it many times. Therefore, stop the need for comparisons, build your path and your journey. This choice will undoubtedly make you feel way better about the process.

Rule 7.- Be Patient

Welcome to the rule I have failed the most. I have this mentality in which I plan years in advance what I will try to be doing in work-related matters. After some months of my PhD I would find myself allocating time to projects so that everything would get done within three years. How stupid is that? I can tell you that it is not intelligent to function like that. Among all the things that can happen: papers get delayed, reviews for publications are not always easy, and projects may not work. Therefore, I try to tell myself to be patient every single day. It has to do with how my brain is set up, and it is not easy to go around it, but I try to work on it to have a more pleasant journey.

Rule 8.- Make friends

Maybe it was seven rules, and I just wanted to add this one. However, I feel like making friends that understand your journey can be a game-changer to enjoy your PhD. Maybe if you are lucky, you can find them in the same research group or organization, hence the importance of selecting a good research group. In fact, as I wrote down the rule, I immediately thought about Joan, Oriol, Hania, Ines, Nico, Mandi, Reza, and Monica. These last three years would have not been the same without you guys. Thank you so much for your constant support!

Notice that I did not talk about what it takes to have a successful PhD. I did not want to go down that path, first, because it is significantly complicated to get a proper definition of success. And second, because you might need a compendium of other things like luck, publishable projects, the right research group at the right moment that are out of anybody's hands. Therefore, I think I talked about things here that, although complicated, we can control. You can decide to be patient. You can work on being consistent. You can put learning as the top priority. You can start learning something new. You can avoid comparing to other people. You can embrace your progress. You can decide to be consistent.

Also, I believe that some of these qualities are important for any other job type. Therefore I am convinced that all these soft skills I have acquired throughout my PhD will make a difference when starting a new job.

Top 5 books of August-October

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen Covey

  2. The Compound Effect. Darren Hardy

  3. The Black Swan. Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  4. 12 Rules for Life. Jordan B. Peterson

  5. The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle

Thank you for reading the blogs, and feel free to follow me on Twitter if you want to know more about me.

From a friend,


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