Getting started with doctoral research

The instruction belongs to the following themes

By selecting a degree programme you are able to see the general content as well as the possible degree programme-specific content. You do not have to select a degree programme to see the Open University's instructions.

The commencement of doctoral studies involves many practical matters you should deal with right away. Once you have accepted the place offered to you, activated your user account in the University’s data network and read the key practical instructions for new doctoral researchers, you still face the biggest hurdle for new doctoral researchers: getting started with your doctoral dissertation and the related studies. Nervous? Don’t worry – you’re not alone! Each year, some 600 new doctoral researchers begin their studies at the University of Helsinki.

Your work methods and the best practices largely depend on your discipline. Another factor to consider is whether you are pursuing doctoral studies on a full-time basis or, for example, while working elsewhere. However, all doctoral researchers embarking on their studies should take a moment to consider the work methods that can best support their research and draw up a preliminary plan for their dissertation project.

The most important tips

Further down the page you will find your doctoral programme's advice for the first steps of your career as a doctoral researcher. To start off, however, we would like to share five tips that are useful for all new doctoral researchers, regardless of their field:

  • Read. We know you are keen to delve into your research work. However, experience has shown that, whatever your field, you should begin your dissertation work by allocating sufficient time to exploring previous research and the key theories and research methods related to your topic and field. You should also acquaint yourself at the outset with some of the literature available on writing a doctoral dissertation. Don’t know where to start? Your supervisors can help you find the right sources of information.
  • Write. It is also important to start writing at the very beginning of dissertation work. But don’t worry about immediately producing an impeccable piece of writing. Make notes or keep a research diary. Reflect and explore your topic, letting your thoughts flow freely. Writing helps you structure your thoughts and, in the long run, will make it easier to produce more polished work.
  • Divide the dissertation project into smaller parts. It is recommended that you start the dissertation process by outlining an overall plan for completing your dissertation project. However, you will find it easier to manage the project if you break it down into smaller components and set yourself interim goals you can reach within a reasonable time. Think in terms of months rather than years. It is a good idea to draw up a slightly more detailed plan, for example, at the beginning of each month concerning your work in the month to come. At the end of the month, you can examine your results and make a new plan for the month ahead. Try to set achievable goals. When creating a timetable, be realistic and make sure your plan also includes days off and breaks from all types of dissertation work.
  • Establish a functional relationship with your supervisor. The supervisor is the doctoral researcher’s most important asset and support. At the beginning of your studies, you should agree with your supervisors on guidelines for your supervision relationship.
  • Remember you are not alone. As soon as you begin to study, try to find a network that can support your dissertation work. Doctoral researchers are supported not only by supervisors, but also by coordinators, thesis committees and the staff of doctoral student services, among others. Peer support by other doctoral researchers as well as the support provided by the research community are also important, so don’t hesitate to get involved in the activities of your doctoral programme and research group, if any. Events and conferences will enable you to meet other researchers in the field, establish networks important for your dissertation and future, and gain new perspectives on your research. If you are unsure about something, always ask for help.