Starting a doctorate

Starting a doctorate can seem daunting, but with a bit of organisation, it can be a smooth experience. The Vitae Researcher Development Framework Getting started in research lens  is a useful resource to help you keep track of the competencies you should be developing at this stage of your research career. Doctoral researchers have repeatedly quoted enthusiasm for their topic and confidence as being crucial during the getting started stage.

Starting a doctorate

Induction to your department

Doctoral researchers will usually undertake some form of induction. In some large departments, with a large intake of researchers at the start of the academic year, this may be a very structured set of talks and lectures. In smaller departments or starting at other times of year, you may depend on your supervisor and colleagues for induction and wait for the formal induction courses to happen later. 

Make sure you find out about:

  • institutional terms and conditions of your doctoral degree
  • rules and conventions governing doctoral degrees
  • health and safety arrangements and any specific institutional regulations
  • timings of research seminars and research group meetings
  • social events for doctoral researchers in your department and university
  • who to contact in case of concerns.

Getting to know your supervisor and colleagues

Research is a collegiate activity and you will need to interact with others. Now is the time to familiarise yourself with the immediate team you will be working with and find out who can help you with access to specific resources and facilities instruments, for example. You also need to build a good relationship with your supervisor. Find out more about supervision and other key relationships.

Managing your research project

For many doctoral researchers, doing a doctorate will be the first independent major project of their professional career. This section will help you assess your competencies to manage your research project more effectively. You will need to:

  • write a research proposal, particularly as part of application process in the social sciences, arts, and humanities disciplines
  • plan your research project: time spent early on effective planning will increase your chances of successfully completing on time
  • set realistic objectives: an important part of managing your research project, this will help you focus on the crucial aspects of your project
  • manage your own time: undertaking a research provides a lot of independence, which is a positive of a research career but can be stressful if you fail to manage your time effectively, so take time to work on time management early in your doctorate.
  • manage the project itself: you will need to plan your competing research projects to make the most of your time and research opportunities, and revise this plan with time to quickly identify if you drop behind your targets. As a doctoral researcher, you may want to refer to the typical milestones of a doctorate.

Managing yourself

To be an effective researcher, you need to learn to manage yourself, ensuring a sensible work-life balance. More information on self-management is available elsewhere on the site. Specifically for doctoral researchers, the following information might be useful when:

Help and support 

There may be times when you need to discuss concerns with someone other than your supervisor. Try looking at our help and support for doctoral researchers for ideas on where to find support.