Getting a Ph.D. can be a very rewarding experience both personally and professionally. Being a successful Ph.D. graduate student, however, can be more complicated than some expect. Being a Ph.D. student means finding balance in several areas of life, working hard, making connections with others and cultivating certain personality traits necessary to succeed in your program of choice.
Build a relationship with a good supervisor, mentor or adviser early. You should preferably choose someone who is well-supported with grants or has tenure in order to eventually make use of the resources he has. Consult with your supervisor for professional guidance and advice. Don't be afraid to switch supervisors if you find that you have trouble working with the one you have.
Prepare to work very hard for long periods of time. Most Ph.D. students seldom stop working, even through weekends. Getting a Ph.D. is not supposed to be easy; find a routine and a schedule that works for you as early as you can.
Take care of yourself. Due to the heavy workload of the basic Ph.D. program, it is easy to let your health and well-being take a backseat to other priorities. Try to take some weekends or holidays off. Despite the heavy course load, you will need to learn when you need a short break in order to avoid burning out. Exercise when you can. Always eat right, even during late-night study sessions.
Connect with other graduate students. The best people to get to know during your Ph.D. are people who know exactly what you are going through because they are going through it at the same time. Arrange for study dates, coffee breaks or days out.
Begin cultivating an expertise in your field early. Start by reading all of the literature you can in your field of specialization. It is difficult to add anything to the field you study if you don't know what is already out there. Also, try going to conferences in your field to find out what questions or research currently predominate the field.
Research, write and publish. Getting a Ph.D. usually means that you have committed yourself to a research-based, academically focused career path. This means that you too must research, explore, pose questions, find answers and share them with the rest of your colleagues. Start by narrowing down your field of interest and doing some extensive research in that area. Hire a librarian to help you find all the materials you need. Enlist your supervisor to help you formulate ideas and get your writing ready for scholarly journal publication.
Find ways to motivate yourself when you are feeling burnt out or are pulling an all-nighter; using a rewards system or reminding yourself of your professional goals are two such ways to do so.
Be prepared to compete with your friends on a certain level. Your superiors will naturally compare you to them; try not to let this fact interfere with your personal life.