Getting Started

The First Steps

Understand your assignment. Make sure that you have understood what your assignment is and what your teacher/supervisor expects from you. If you are uncertain: ask. It is always a bummer to put a lot of work into an assignment only to realize that you misunderstood it.

Get an overview. Use encyclopaedias, review articles and relevant book chapters to get a superficial overview of your topic. Find and understand basic concepts.

Talk and discuss. When you have obtained a general overview of your topic, you can start discussing it with others. Discussing your assignment or topic can be a nice way to increase your understanding and get some ideas on how to continue your work.

Managing your time correctly is something many find difficult regardless of how much experience they have with deadlines. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be realistic. Set up a realistic time schedule. Being too time optimistic when planning will either tire you out or leave you disappointed when you fall behind on your schedule. When you plan, keep in mind that things usually take more time than first anticipated, and that unexpected things can happen. For students, it can be a good idea to discuss with your supervisor how much time you can expect each task to take.
  • Use a calendar. The calendar can be written or digital but try to always keep an overview of your time and tasks. This helps you stay organized, but it can also motivate you - it is easier to complete a day of work if you know where to begin.
  • Plan your downtime. When doing research, you will often encounter some downtime. This can be while you wait for your experiments in the lab or while waiting a week or two for your supervisor to read your draft. Try to have a plan for this downtime to make it as productive as possible (e.g. read relevant literature, work on your figures, doublecheck your reference list etc.)
  • Fight procrastination. Many tend to postpone things if the deadline is far away. Try your best to avoid this. Things usually take more time than you think, and it can be difficult to come up with good ideas and well written arguments if the time pressure and stress become too much. It could also be that you realize that you need time to discuss your work with your lecturer/supervisor. You should therefore start working on your assignments as early as possible.
  • Schedule time off. Procrastinating your work is one thing, taking necessary time off is another. Some forget to include free time in their schedules and fall into a never-ending spiral of work. Driving yourself to the ground is not going to improve your work.