4 ways to help you get ready for research

2 December 2020

Researching at Master's level is just a taster of what it’s going to be like at PhD level. Simone, our postgraduate research contributor, shares her favourite tips to help you get ready for research!


You’re committing to a project that’s going to take three or four years – longer if you’re studying part-time. This is likely to be the largest single project you’ve ever undertaken. How do you prepare for that? Can you really prepare for it? Well, to some extent - you can. Here are some ideas...

  1. Some months will have probably passed between writing your research proposal and actually starting your PhD. It’s a good idea to sit down and remind yourself of the focus of your project. You might find that your ideas have changed and developed – that’s absolutely fine and expected.
  2. If you're starting your PhD in September, you might also want to get a bit of reading done if you have time over the summer. If there are any key texts you’re planning on focusing on, maybe give them the once over. This is also a good opportunity to fill in any gaps in your background knowledge before starting the research proper.
  3. This leads onto my third tip – getting a note-taking and reference management system going. If you’re not familiar with reference management software, try out a few now. The same goes for note-taking and writing software. I was terrible at all this as a Master’s student – so the summer before my PhD I was determined to get a system in place. I found that Mendeley was the reference management software that worked best for me, and that I liked Evernote to store my notes. Something else might work for you! There’s loads of advice about this online. But it’s good to get a system set up before you start the serious research, because you don’t want to get two or three months in and totally reconfigure what you’re doing.
  4. Finally, put some kind of plan in place for your first few weeks at UCL! It’s quite overwhelming starting out, especially coming from a taught Master’s programme, and discovering that you’re totally in charge of your own time and project management. Having a rough idea of how to fill those early days will help. It could be some reading you want to get on top of, a preliminary piece of writing... something that stops you feeling adrift. If you can connect with your supervisor before starting, this really helps: they should be able to talk you through the first steps and what they expect from you.

Good luck! But try not to go too overboard: a bit of preparation is good, but you don’t want to burn out before you even begin. Remember to find time to relax over the summer, that’s all part of the preparation too. 

Last revised: 8 September 2021

Simone Webb, UCL student, PhD in Gender Studies