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Tips for when you start your PhD

1. Do lots of reading! This is a key time to make sure that you know the most important and most recent research in your field. Aim to read at least one journal article per day, and take good notes.

2. Look at your institutional website and see what training you can access, and sign up for anything relevant. Relevant courses might include workshops on thesis writing, statistical analysis, or how to use software which is widely used in your field of research.

3. Decide how you will manage your (bibliographic / scholarly) references, and set this up. Most people choose reference management software, which they then use to store and manage all their references for the entire PhD (and beyond!). There is a Wiki that compares them here: Comparison of reference management software - Wikipedia. You might wish to ask your supervisor's advice on which to use, and ask your institution if they support any in particular (e.g., they may pay a subscription to one or more, and / or offer training courses on some rather than others). Some need to be bought, others are free. Zotero and Mendeley are popular. I use Zotero, which is free, easy to use, and has an excellent free app.

4. Find out what the main journals are in your field. You can do this by asking your supervisor, other PhD researchers or scholars, or by looking at which journals research in your area seems to be published in most.

5. Set up some journal alerts. Each academic journal will have the option for you to create a free account, and set up alerts. When you set these up, you'll receive relevant emails from the journal as new content is available. There are two kinds of alerts that are useful to set up right at the start of your research: 1) new issue alerts, which mean that the journal will email you when there are any new articles published (and you can then see if there are any articles you want to read), 2) keyword alerts, which mean that you will be notified if an article is published by that journal containing any of the keywords that you specify. Useful journals to set up alert on include: Psychology of Music, Musicae Scientiae, Music & Science, Music Perception.

6. Learn which conferences are the important ones in your field, and look at when they run, and which you might like to attend or submit an abstract to present at. For music psychology, key conferences which run every 1-3 years include ESCOM and ICMPC. Others include SEMPRE and the SysMus conference series. SysMus is solely for PhD researchers, and is an excellent first conference experience (it takes place annually and is usually in the UK or somewhere in Europe).

7. Sign up to relevant mailing lists. These might include: 1) the 'musicology-all' jiscmail, 2) the 'music-and-science' jiscmail list, 3) the ESCOM mailing list.

8. Think about what other people and networks might be useful for your research. For example, if there is another higher education institution near where you are studying or living, could you attend any of their research seminars? Might it be useful for you to look into the possibility of spending some time working in another lab or with another person for a brief part of your studies?

9. Find out what other courses and classes may be being taught at your institution that may be useful, which you may be able to sit in on. For example, if you are in a music department you may find it useful to sit in on psychology modules. You could also enquire about sitting in on music psychology MA classes.

10. Experiment with statistics software, and learn to use the one you plan to conduct your analysis in. SPSS is popular for quantitative data, but expensive, and doesn't allow as much control over your analysis as other packages. R and Jamovi are free alternatives. NVivo is popular for qualitative data analysis, but also requires a subscription.

11. Spend some time looking at online courses and lectures that are available which might be useful for developing your skills. For example, YouTube tutorials, courses available through Coursera (some of which are free, some paid), and repositories of scholarly talks by your institution and others (for example, the University of Cambridge Darwin lectures are excellent).

12. Find out how best to access any key books in your field, for example, do your library hold these (in hard copy or ebooks), and / or can you obtain a copy from Amazon, or EBay for a good price? Some useful texts when starting your studies could include these: 1) for quantitative stats, Andy Field's 'Discovering Statistics using SPSS statistics' (make sure you get the latest edition, and bear in mind that Amazon usually offer a good chunk of this as a 'sample' on Kindle for free. Also Andy Field makes some very useful YouTube videos), 2) for qualitative stats, Braun and Clarke's 'Thematic Analysis: A Practical Guide' (again, make sure you get the latest edition), 3) for a brief introduction to current research in multiple areas of music psychology, Thompson's 'Music, Thought and Feeling' (again, make sure you get the latest edition), 4) for a more in depth account of the latest research in various areas of music psychology, 'The Oxford Guide to Music Psychology' (eds. Hallam, Cross and Thaut, again, get the latest edition), 5) for general guidance on conducting music psychology research (including statistical analysis), 'Performing Music Research: Methods in Music Education, Psychology, and Performance Science' (eds. Williamon, Ginsborg, Perkins, & Waddell).

13. Find out what your institution offers to support PhD researchers, and make sure that you know where to turn for help and advice. For example, there may be informal PhD research groups, writing retreats, and PhD social activities. You should also make sure you're familiar with support on offer, such as language support, study skills support, and health and wellbeing support.

14. Start to build your research profile online so that others working in your field can start to be aware of your research, and you can grow your research network. You should consider any social media platforms you'd like to use (for example, X (Twitter), Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn), and also set yourself up a profile on academic social media platforms and ResearchGate.

15. Find out how scholars in your field are working, and what the latest digital resources and events might be. For example, are there podcasts you could subscribe to, reading groups you could become a part of, or regular seminar series (online or in person) you could attend?

16. Make sure you have the basic logistics sorted, for example, accessing and checking your institutional email address, being aware of where any notices are posted (either online or hard copy), knowing your library login to access online journals, attending any induction sessions.

17. Spend time enjoying PhD Comics, and seeing your own PhD life reflected in these amusing cartoons!

Other useful resources:

  • Here is a list of places that offer courses in music psychology.

  • Tinkler, P., Jackson, C. & Society for Research into Higher Education 2004, The doctoral examination process: a handbook for students, examiners and supervisors, Open University Press, Maidenhead. 

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