23 Books That Fix 99% Of PhD Problems

You suffer some PhD problems.

We all do. It’s not specific to you. And PhD problems come in many flavors.

When somebody registers to the Next Scientist Newsletter, I ask them “Where are you struggling?”. These are some of the most common replies I get:

  • My project proposal sucks.
  • My supervisor sucks.
  • My field of research sucks.
  • My colleagues suck.
  • Academia sucks.


Sounds familiar? I know you think that. I did.

But it is a bit childish don’t you think? So much sucking everywhere. To me it sounds like “everybody and everything is against me, what can I do, poor little me?”.

Maybe it is time to take ownership and start changing what is at your reach. You.

Yes, you.

Change yourself, so your circumstances change, and as a result your surroundings, your environment change too. The message is change what’s in your control, so hopefully what lies outside your control will follow.



Allow me to illustrate this with the example of your supervisor. He sucks. You’ve said it a thousand times. You hope that he gets a position somewhere far and your university appoints this time a proper supervisor.

So if you believe he sucks, what do you think you transmit to him verbally and non-verbally when you two meet? Or via email?

He notices your frustration, your desperation, even your disgust. Your body language says “I don’t like you because (you ignore me / don’t give feedback / don’t guide me as I expect you to guide me / fill in your excuse)”.

And what do you think happens when he has to interact with somebody like you with such a negative energy towards him? Yes, he wants to avoid it. So with your behavior you reinforce what you don’t want to happen.

Now, let’s see how you can change this. It starts with you.

Start by acknowledging that whatever he does to you, it’s not personal. He’s a person too, imperfect as you are. He has a bad memory too, a busy agenda and puts as well more in his plate than he can chew.

This you can do, right?

Now he’s not a psychopath anymore but a human being with his flaws. Do you start to feel a bit of compassion?

Next you need to understand that he wants to help you and you have to make it easy for him to help you. This you can also influence.

You come to him with humongous open questions like:

  • What should I write in my project proposal?
  • What experiment should I do?
  • Which papers do I read?

The guy doesn’t even know where to start with you!

Those questions are too broad. You are just asking him to solve everything for you. You are the one doing the PhD not him!

You should do homework before and ask narrow questions so you can tackle them, like:

  • This is my project proposal. I want to study X because Y and Z. My hypothesis is such and such and I think it’s innovative because bla bla. What would you add/change to make it a solid proposal that you would accept?
  • I want to do this experiment because it checks bla bla that Smith et al. did not cover in their 2013 paper. Furthermore nobody has tried that method with the type of data e have. From your experience, do you think this can give enough results for a publication? If not, what would you do differently?
  • I have read all the papers of the last 10 years from Smith et al., Gupta et al. and that German professor from MIT I always forget her name. Still, I don’t seem to connect all the dots on how my results fit in their research. Can you suggest some other authors or review papers that help me put my results into context?

This is better. You show you ready for your meeting, you understand his time is valuable so your questions are precise. He can act on this. And even better, he can feel useful.

These are two actions that can dramatically change your relationship with your PhD supervisor.


How do I know this?

I am no genius. In fact, I am an only child that lacks some empathy. Reading people and interacting with them is not my strong point.

I improved by reading books. Those principles I shared with you about interacting with your supervisor I learned from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It’s a book for personal change (aka self-help). Not the kind of book scientists read, isn’t it? It’s more for business people.

The Best Books To Tackle Most Common PhD Problems

So I just showed you how a business book can help you improve your relationship with your PhD supervisor. That is one of the most common PhD problems I hear. But we all have many other challenges.

Keep reading because I am going to recommend you some books that will help you address some other typical PhD problems you might meet. Think of time management, academic writing, transitioning to industry, staying motivated, and so on.

Some books are specific for PhD students, others for business people, others for average Joe people and even for artists. Why would they apply to you, Mrs. PhD student?

Because as a PhD student you are a business person, an entrepreneur. Your project is your own start-up and you need to make it grow and become successful.

As a PhD student you are an average Joe. You procrastinate, you have poor habits and you could use some help.

As a PhD student you are an artist. You create. You are innovative, disruptive. You write, you think, you dream.

This is why these books are going to help you become a better PhD student. They address the most common problems and challenges you face.

Enjoy the books and remember that it is up to you to make your PhD work.

These are the common PhD problems or questions I hear and the books that can solve them.

PhD Problems best books

How Do I Get Better at Academic Writing?

#1 A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertation

This book has all anybody writing something scientific could need. MSc students writing their thesis, a PhD student writing a first paper or even more senior scientists. There’s a bit for everybody here, and it is good stuff.

It’s the eight version of an old book. This means a) it’s been a huge success and b) principles of good writing don’t change that fast. A must have!

Buy it now: A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations 

#2 Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English

While English is the de facto language of science, most scientists are non-native English speakers. And that you notice when you read their papers. Have you noticed how some papers read effortlessly, like they are easy and enjoyable? While others feel like a big struggle? It’s not about their content, it’s how they are written.

This book is like the one before, but aimed at you, non-English scientist. It’s the best out there. After you apply the knowledge it has, you will write better than the guy that writes the speeches for Obama.

Buy it now: Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English 

#3 On Writing Well

So this is THE book for all writers that want to be good writers. The biggest tip I took away from it was to use simple words and short sentences. Something we don’t follow in our scientific publications. It’s long and dense, but packed with timeless and field-less (does that word exist?) advice.

Buy it now: On Writing Well 


How Do I Improve My Literature Review?

#4 The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success

From the little literature available on literature reviews, this book stands out. It will take you from zero to hero and guide you through the process of lit rev. It will take all that could of knowledge and papers you have read and help you distill it into a concise review.

Buy it now: The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success


How Do I survive My PhD? What Are The Unwritten Rules to Succeed in a PhD?

Here I compile the books that fall under the umbrella of “all you need to know to succeed in graduate school”. While they overlap with some of the books in the other categories, they give you a broad overview of the challenges ahead.

#5 How To Tame Your PhD

The Thesis Whisperer could be the best blog for PhD students. It covers all possible advice PhD students need, from managing your supervisor to dealing with PhD depression. This book is a compendium of their best posts. While it still reads like a collection of blog posts, its advice is so good that it is becoming the best book with general advice for PhD students.

Get it now, what are you waiting for?

Buy it now: How to tame your PhD 


#6 The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.

Dora Farkas is one of the best PhD coaches. She helps students finish their thesis. Plain and simple. She is also a guest blogger here at Next Scientist, check Dora’s posts here.  In this book she interviews 200 graduates to find the best strategies to finish a PhD. No nonsense, no fluff, just what has worked for them.

Buy it now: The Smart Way to Your Ph.D 


#7 Getting What You Came For

This book is an oldie but a goodie. It’s similar to the other books in this category. Choose this book if you need extra help on getting accepted for a PhD, as it devotes quite some pages to that topic.

Buy it now: Getting What You Came For 


How Can I Deal With A Difficult PhD Supervisor?

The books in this section assume that your supervisor is a truly complicated person. As we have seen this might be your perception and in fact, you just need some elbow grease to work on your relationship with her. Assuming you have changed yourself enough to improve your relationship and this hasn’t worked and your supervisor is really a jerk, then read this books.

#8 The No Asshole Rule

This book is mostly about how to get rid of assholes at the workplace. While you might not get rid of your supervisor, the tips on dealing with assholes might come in handy. The book is quite short and easy to read. Avoid it if you cannot handle foul language.

Buy it now: The No Asshole Rule 


#9 Coping with Difficult People

This classic book presents a list of stereotypes of difficult people and how to deal with them. Most likely your professor fits in one of those stereotypes. If you want to learn how to manipulate your prof, this is your book.

Buy it now: Coping with Difficult People 


How Do I Stop Procrastinating In My PhD?

#10 The 4-Hour Workweek

This is by far my favorite book. I’d recommend it to any person in any circumstance, so I am biased.

This is what the book is about: maximize your per hour output. Forget it’s laziness promoting, get-rich-quick scam title. It provides you with a wealth of principles, strategies and hacks to make the most of every single hour. You choose if you use this knowledge to work fewer hours or work the same amount of hours but producing much more than before.

Buy it now: The 4-Hour Workweek 


#11 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This is one of the biggest and best self-help books ever. It provides you with a framework to make better decisions and guide your life. Its implications go so deep that you can use this book to beat procrastination, set goals, but also improve relationships (like I showed you at the beginning of this post).

It’s one of those books that always provides a new useful insight depending on your circumstances and what you ask.

Buy it now: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 

#12 Manage Your Day-to-Day

This is a book written by the people behind Behance and 99U, a company and blog for creative professionals. They share awesome advice on productivity, daily routines and thinking process for creatives. Remember, you are an artist, you are creating stuff, so this advice applies to you. Specially worth a read the chapter about training your mind to be more creative. Why? Because, you, are, a, creator.

Buy it now: Manage Your Day-to-Day


How Do I Build The Habit Of …?

#13 The Power of Habit

Want to write consistently? Read everyday? Produce great work consistently? 

Many bloggers and podcasts are going crazy with the habits, rituals and daily routines of successful people. The premise is that you can change your old bad habits by good habits if you know know. Having a morning routine is essential for a productive day. Well, this is the book that started it all. After reading this book you will see that it’s not so difficult to create a new better you.

Buy it now: The Power of Habit


How Do I Stay Motivated In A PhD?

A big part of staying motivated is knowing what you are doing, for instance writing and reading scientific papers (we have you covered with the earlier books).

Motivation also comes from seeing progress, or not standing still. So being productive, not procrastinating and having good habits help.

We are still missing two causes: mindset and your reason for doing a PhD.

#14 Think and Grow Rich

This is a classic book on personal growth. It teaches you how people train their mind and develop the right mindset to do great things. It focuses on, you guessed it right, becoming rich. Of course we need to translate it to PhD language. So instead of growing rich, we think of becoming a great PhD graduate. Instead of riches, we want to accumulate publications, discoveries, talks at conferences. You catch my drift.

Buy it now: Think and Grow Rich 


#15 Start with Why

This is a great book to discover why you want to do a PhD. If you don’t know your “why”, you can’t motivate yourself to wake up 5am to write another version of your first publication. This book focuses on the whys of businesses, but the same principle you can apply to people.

Buy it now: Start with Why

How Do I Get Tenure?

#16 The Professor Is In

Karen Kelsky is the most famous scientist coach. She guides young PhDs to achieve a successful career as tenured scientists. She is the creator of the don’t-bookmark-it-at-your-own-peril blog The Professor Is In. She has poured in this book all she knows about making it in Academia.

The best thing of this book is that it tells you all the challenges, all the hoops you need to trough to succeed in Academia. She does the 80/20 analysis for you on how to invest your efforts to maximize your results.

Buy it now: The Professor Is In

#17 A PhD Is Not Enough!

This is one of the most comprehensive books on the wide topic of “how go from PhD to a successful career in Academia?”. It revisits the classics like giving presentations and how to write a paper. It also covers advanced topics like getting funded or establishing your own group (something I missed in The Professor Is In).


Buy it now: A PhD Is Not Enough! 

How Do I Improve My Networking Skills As A PhD student?

#18 Networking for Nerds

While the title might seem self-explanatory, this book targets scientists and engineers. It offers classic networking advice, like networking at events, with modern advice, like using LinkedIn. All from the perspective of scientific folks. So waste no time and grab a copy.

Buy it now: Networking for Nerds 



#19 How To Win Friends and Influence People

This is classic on networking, or better said, how to be likeable. If people like you, all doors will open for you. The main premise here is: it’s not about you, it’s about the other person, you need to make her/him feel special. As simple as that.

Don’t miss this book, it’s that good.

Buy it now: How To Win Friends and Influence People 


How Do I Improve My Communication Skills As A PhD Student?

#20 Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

How do you talk to people in the poster session of a conference? How do you talk to your future supervisor? How do you talk in your first interview for a job in Industry after your PhD?

This book is about details. Those crucial details that can take you to new levels. When you are a big shot in Industry or land tenure and look back at the defining moments that took you there, you will see that talking with confidence to the right person at the right moment was key. This book will help you with the talking.

Buy it now: Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High 

How Do I Prepare Myself To Find A Job In Industry After A PhD?

#21 The Personal MBA

Read this book if you want to understand business. If you want to learn the business jargon. If you want to hold a conversation when transitioning to industry and don’t sound fake.

Josh Kaufman had a blog where he would share business knowledge. Where did he get that knowledge from? He read hundreds of business books. This book is the result of many followers asking him to put all that knowledge in a book. What you see in this book is what you get if you enroll in a full-time MBA, just 31134 times cheaper. The only thing you won’t get is the networking potential an MBA offers you.

Buy it now: The Personal MBA 

How Do I Start A Career In Industry As A Data Scientist?

I transitioned to industry and got a job as data scientist consultant. There is a lot of demand for this kind of work (it’s a bit hyped, in my opinion) since they published the article that Data Scientist is the hottest job of the 21st century.

Hot or not, I enjoy it. Furthermore, it’s a suitable transition job for many PhD students because many graduates are good at statistics, or maths, or programming, or data analysis, or machine learning or a combination of the previous.

Not only this, a data scientist has to be curious and do some research (you are sometimes a sort of data detective), sounds like a PhD doesn’t it?

Here I share the two books that do the best job at covering the vast field of data science.

#22 Data Science for Business

This book focuses on all the analytical techniques used in data science, mostly related to machine learning.  It also relates them to business applications. It’s a good book to have when you want to refresh your knowledge of a technique you haven’t used recently.

Buy it now: Data Science for Business


#23 Data Scientist: The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Data Scientist

This book describes how to start a career in data science and how to thrive. From how to network, to developing the right skills (hard and soft), this book offers actionable advice and a clear description of the career path you will follow as a data scientist

Buy it now: Data Scientist: The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Data Scientist 


The common PhD problems

As you see most PhD problems fall into 4 categories

  1. Academic writing/reading
  2. Transferable skills
  3. Finding a job in industry after a PhD
  4. PhD productivity and motivation (aka, surviving your PhD)

Are you struggling with #3 and #4? I can help you.

PhD coaching

I am offering PhD coaching spots to improve your PhD productivity and motivation, and to find you a job in industry.

Send me an email if you want to work with me to get you out of the PhD Dip, boost your productivity or find a job in industry.

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.