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Lecture 3 Planning Your Graduate Education Roadmap
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." - Benjamin Franklin 

3.1. Why does a graduate student need a plan?

Planning is a critical aspect of success, as it provides a roadmap for achieving goals and navigating complex challenges. One of the most famous quotes on the importance of planning comes from Sun Tzu, who wrote in "The Art of War": "Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." This quote highlights the importance of having a comprehensive understanding of both one's own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of one's opponents. Planning helps individuals and organizations to set appropriate goals and create strategies for achieving those goals. By breaking down a problem or objective into smaller, manageable pieces, planning makes it easier to identify potential challenges and weaknesses. This allows individuals to proactively address these issues, reducing the risk of failure and increasing the chances of success. Planning also increases efficiency, as it provides a structured approach to problem-solving and goal-setting. By weighing the pros and cons of different options and making informed decisions, planning leads to more effective and efficient outcomes. Furthermore, planning can help to increase certainty and confidence. When individuals have a clear understanding of the steps needed to reach their desired outcomes, they feel more confident in their ability to succeed. This can lead to greater peace of mind, as individuals are better prepared to handle any challenges that may arise. In conclusion, planning is a crucial aspect of personal and professional success. By providing a roadmap for success, planning helps individuals and organizations to overcome challenges, achieve their goals, and thrive in their pursuits.

Having a plan can be crucial for graduate students for several reasons:

1.    Goal-setting: A plan can help graduate students set appropriate and achievable goals, breaking down larger objectives into smaller, more manageable pieces. This makes it easier to stay motivated and focused on the end goal.

2.    Increased efficiency: By identifying the steps needed to achieve their goals, graduate students can work more efficiently and avoid wasting time on irrelevant activities.

3.    Revealing strengths and weaknesses: Developing a plan can also help graduate students identify their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to better focus their efforts on areas that need improvement.

4.    Improved decision-making: A plan can help graduate students make better decisions by providing a clear framework for evaluating options and weighing the pros and cons of different approaches.

5.    Reduced risk: A well-thought-out plan can help graduate students anticipate potential challenges and identify strategies for mitigating risks.

6.    Increased certainty and confidence: By having a clear plan in place, graduate students can feel more confident about their ability to achieve their goals.

7.    Increased credibility: A plan can also help graduate students establish their credibility by demonstrating a clear understanding of the steps needed to achieve their objectives.

8.    Encourages creativity: While a plan can provide structure, it can also encourage creativity by forcing students to think outside the box and consider different approaches to problem-solving.

Peace of mind: Finally, having a plan in place can provide peace of mind, reducing stress and anxiety and helping graduate students feel more in control of their academic and professional lives.

3.2. How many different plans may one prepare for PhD study?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how many different plans one might prepare for PhD study, as this can vary depending on individual circumstances, goals, and preferences. However, here are a few common plans that students might consider when preparing for a PhD:

  1. Research plan: This plan outlines the research goals and objectives that the student hopes to achieve during their PhD studies. It can include research questions, methods, and timelines for completing various milestones.

  2. Coursework plan: This plan outlines the courses that the student will take during their PhD studies, as well as any required or recommended courses. It can include timelines for completing each course and expectations for grades.

  3. Publication plan: This plan outlines the student's goals for publishing research during their PhD studies. It can include target journals, timelines for submitting manuscripts, and expectations for co-authorship.

  4. Professional development plan: This plan outlines the student's goals for developing skills and networking during their PhD studies. It can include attending conferences, presenting research, and seeking out mentorship opportunities.

  5. Personal plan: This plan outlines the student's goals for balancing their PhD studies with their personal life. It can include strategies for managing stress, maintaining relationships, and pursuing hobbies and interests outside of academia.

Of course, these plans are not mutually exclusive and many students will prepare for their PhD studies by combining elements of each plan. Ultimately, the best plan for any individual will depend on their unique circumstances and goals.

Example#1 An research plan

The research plan should provide a clear and detailed outline of the study, including the research question, methodology, timeline, and expected outcomes.

  1. Introduction: The research plan should begin with an introduction to the topic of two-dimensional material growth and the motivation for the research. This may include a review of the current state of the field and the significance of the research question.

  2. Research question and objectives: The research plan should state the specific research question or hypothesis that the study aims to address. For example, the research question may be, "How does the growth temperature affect the properties of two-dimensional materials?" The research objectives may include developing a simulation model for two-dimensional material growth and investigating the effects of growth temperature on material properties.

  3. Methodology: The methodology section should describe the methods and techniques that will be used to conduct the study. This may include the use of computational tools, such as molecular dynamics simulations, to model the growth process of two-dimensional materials. The methodology should also describe the parameters that will be varied, such as the temperature and pressure, and the methods that will be used to analyze the resulting data.

  4. Timeline: The research plan should include a timeline for completing the study. This may include specific milestones and deadlines for completing the different stages of the research, such as developing the simulation model, running simulations, and analyzing the data.

  5. Expected outcomes and significance: The research plan should conclude with a discussion of the expected outcomes and the significance of the study. For example, the study may provide insights into the fundamental mechanisms of two-dimensional material growth and the role of growth temperature in controlling material properties. The research plan should also identify the potential applications of the research findings, such as the development of new materials for electronic or photonic devices.

Example#2 A coursework plan for a first-year graduate student

The coursework plan is designed to provide the student with a strong foundation in the fundamental principles of physics, while also allowing them to develop the skills needed for independent research in their field.

Fall Semester:

  • Classical Mechanics: This course will cover the fundamental principles of classical mechanics, including Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, central force motion, and oscillations.

  • Electromagnetic Theory: This course will cover the principles of electromagnetic theory, including electric and magnetic fields, Maxwell's equations, and electromagnetic waves.

  • Quantum Mechanics: This course will cover the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, including wave-particle duality, uncertainty principle, quantum states and operators, and applications to simple systems.

Spring Semester:

  • Statistical Mechanics: This course will cover the principles of statistical mechanics, including thermodynamics, partition functions, and ensembles.

  • Advanced Electromagnetic Theory: This course will cover advanced topics in electromagnetic theory, such as electromagnetic waves in media, radiation from moving charges, and relativistic electrodynamics.

  • Solid State Physics: This course will cover the fundamental principles of solid state physics, including crystal structure, electronic band structure, and phonons.


  • Research Project: During the summer, the student will begin working on a research project under the guidance of their research advisor. The project will involve applying the principles learned in their coursework to a specific problem in their field of interest.


Throughout the year, the student will also attend weekly departmental seminars and participate in a journal club to stay up-to-date with the latest research in their field. The coursework plan may be adjusted based on the student's research interests and the requirements of their specific graduate program.

Example#3 A publication plan

The publication plan should provide a clear and detailed outline of the review paper, including the scope and objectives, methodology, and manuscript preparation. The review paper should provide a comprehensive and critical analysis of the current literature on the charge dynamics of photocatalysts, and identify key research gaps and future directions in the field. A typical plan shall include the following:

  1. Introduction: The review paper should begin with an introduction to the topic of charge dynamics of photocatalysts and the motivation for the review. This may include a brief overview of the current state of the field and the significance of the research question.

  2. Scope and objectives: The review paper should state the specific scope and objectives of the study. For example, the review may aim to summarize and analyze the current literature on the charge dynamics of photocatalysts, and identify key research gaps and future directions.

  3. Literature search: The literature search should be conducted using a combination of electronic databases and manual searching of relevant journals, conference proceedings, and other sources. The search criteria may include keywords related to photocatalysts, charge dynamics, and related topics.

  4. Data extraction and analysis: The data extraction and analysis should involve a careful reading and evaluation of the selected papers. The key data and findings should be summarized and analyzed using a structured approach, such as a thematic analysis or a meta-analysis.

  5. Manuscript preparation: The manuscript should be prepared according to the guidelines of the target journal. This may include a clear structure, with sections for the introduction, scope and objectives, literature search, data extraction and analysis, and conclusions and future directions.

  6. Review and revision: The manuscript should be reviewed and revised by the authors and any other relevant experts in the field. The feedback should be carefully considered and incorporated into the manuscript, where appropriate.

  7. Submission and publication: The manuscript should be submitted to a target journal that is appropriate for the scope and objectives of the review. The review process may involve several rounds of revision and resubmission before final acceptance and publication.

Example#4 A professional development plan for a PhD student

The professional development plan should be tailored to the student's research interests, career goals, and the requirements of their specific PhD program. The plan should include specific goals and action items, with timelines and measurable outcomes, to help the student stay on track and make progress towards their professional development goals. The plan shall include the following:

  1. Research Training: The student should attend research training workshops or courses relevant to their field of study to improve their research skills, including data analysis, scientific writing, and presentation skills.

  2. Conference Attendance: The student should attend one or two international conferences per year to present their research, network with other researchers, and keep up-to-date with the latest research trends in their field.

  3. Teaching Experience: The student should gain teaching experience by serving as a teaching assistant for at least one course per year. This will help the student develop their communication and teaching skills, as well as provide valuable experience for future academic positions.

  4. Writing Experience: The student should gain experience in writing scientific papers by contributing to manuscript preparation and submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals. The student should also aim to publish at least one paper per year in a high-impact journal.

  5. Professional Networking: The student should actively seek out opportunities to network with professionals in their field, including attending seminars and lectures, participating in workshops, and collaborating with other researchers.

  6. Leadership Experience: The student should aim to take on leadership roles in their research group or other professional organizations. This may include leading group meetings, organizing seminars, or serving on committees.

  7. Career Planning: The student should attend career development workshops or seminars to explore potential career paths and develop a plan for their post-PhD career.

  8. Skill Development: The student should seek out opportunities to develop additional skills that will be beneficial for their future career, such as coding or project management.

  9. Grant Writing: The student should gain experience in grant writing by applying for research grants, fellowships, or other funding opportunities.

3.3. How to design a plan for  graduate student?

There are five basic steps to establish a plan:

1.    Self-assessment: The first step in designing a plan for a graduate student is to conduct a self-assessment. This involves reflecting on your strengths, weaknesses, skills, interests, and values. You should also consider your long-term career goals and how your graduate program can help you achieve those goals. This self-assessment will help you identify areas where you need to improve and areas where you can excel.

2.    Goal development: Once you have completed a self-assessment, you can start setting goals for your graduate program. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Consider what you want to achieve in terms of your academic performance, research, professional development, and personal growth.

3.    Mentor discussion: It's important to have a discussion with your mentor to share your goals and get their feedback. Your mentor can provide you with guidance on how to achieve your goals and suggest additional areas of focus. This discussion should be a two-way dialogue where you can ask questions and receive constructive feedback.

4.    Implementation: With your goals in place and input from your mentor, it's time to implement your plan. This involves developing a step-by-step action plan for each goal, setting deadlines, and tracking your progress. Be sure to prioritize your tasks and manage your time effectively.

5.    Review/revise or self-reflection: Regularly reviewing your progress and revising your plan or conducting self-reflection is crucial to ensuring you stay on track. This allows you to identify what's working and what's not, make necessary adjustments, and stay focused on your goals. You can do this through regular check-ins with your mentor or by reviewing your own progress and making adjustments to your plan as needed. It's important to be flexible and adaptable as you go along, and to be open to new opportunities that may arise.

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