August 26, 2008

Action Summary of 'How to get a PhD'

I re-read the bestseller book of Phillips and Pugh (2005) again. After being a PhD student, I gained new insights. Herewith the action summary of some of the chapters which could be useful for others.

Action summary:

On becoming a research student

  • Be aware that in doctoral education you are under your own management and have the responsibility for determining what is required as well as for carrying it out.
  • You will experience periods of self-doubt which you must come through with the clear aim of becoming a competent professional researcher.

The nature of the PhD qualification

  • Set out to discover the standard and achievement for a fully professional researcher in your discipline that justify the award of the PhD degree.
  • Read others’ PhD theses in your field and evaluate them for the degree of originality in the research which has satisfied the examiners.
  • Be aware that the initial enthusiasm for the research will inevitably decline eventually. Provide the determination and application (rather than brilliance) that are required to complete the work and obtain the degree.
  • Use the full range of services that your university makes available to ensure that you have proper support in your studies.
  • The tension between the boundaries of the research project and the time available to complete it should be continually reviewed and adjusted by the student and the supervisors.

How not to get a PhD

  • Be aware of the seven ways of not getting a PhD
  • Not wanting a PhD
  • Overestimating what is required
  • Underestimating what is required
  • Having a supervisor who does not know what is required
  • Losing contact with your supervisor
  • Not having a ‘thesis’ (as in position or argument) to maintain
  • Taking a new job before completin
  • Work to understand the implications of these traps fully in your own situation and determine not to succumb to them
  • Re-establish your determination regularly when blandishments to stray from your programme of work occur.

How to do research

  • Consider very carefully the advantages of doing ‘testing-out’ research for your PhD.
  • From observation and discussion with your supervisor and other academics, construct a list of the craft practices that characterise a good professional researcher in your discipline.
  • Aim to ensure that no procedure, technique, skill, etc., that is relevant to your project will be exercised by you there for the first time.
  • Find out from researchers in your subject how the scientific approach actually works in practice.

The form of a PhD thesis

  • Ensure that the four elements of the PhD form (background theory, focal theory, data theory, contribution) are adequately covered in your thesis.
  • Do not make your thesis (that is, the report) any longer than it needs to be to sustain your thesis (your argument).
  • Remember that you need only take a very small step indeed within regard to the ‘original’ part of your work.
  • Discuss with your supervisor the many different ways in which a thesis may be presumed to be ‘original’ and come to some agreement about the way that you will be interpreting this requirement.
  • Write your thesis in readable English, using technical terms as appropriate but avoiding jargon.
  • From the beginning, use the footnoting and referencing conventions of your discipline.
  • Take very opportunity to write reports, draft papers, criticism f others’ work, etc. during the course of your research. Do not think that all the writing can be done at the end. If you do avoid writing you will not develop the skills to write efficiently, or even adequately, for your thesis.
  • Write up your final thesis in the order which is easiest for you. It does not have to be written in the order in which it will be read. The method section is often a good place to start.

Common structure

-         Introduction (including aims)

-         Literature survey (background theory as a review of the relevant literature)

-         Method (data theory including a description of what has been done)

-         Results ( focal theory including what was found)

-         Discussion (development of focal theory and suggestions for future work)

-         Conclusions (summary and contribution)


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Only a year in myself, but that’s pretty useful. Thanks.

    27 Aug 2008, 15:24


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