“The process of a higher degree is now acknowledged to be scholarship and apprenticeship (learning to be an independent academic) and training. The sooner you sit down and work out exactly what your project is (and conversely what it is not) the easier it will seem”
S. Hutchinson, ‘Beating The Research Blues’ in The Postgraduate’s Companion (Sage, 2008)
How do you keep your PhD on track?
Being a doctoral researcher is meant to be hard work, but sometimes things can seem harder than they should be. The second year of a PhD is often a low point for some, especially when bogged down in the process of hard-core research. So what can you do to help keep you and your PhD on track? The best way to start is by conducting an audit of your progress so far. What have you written? What are your research outputs? What are your strengths? What do you need to work on? After you have considered all of these things you can then think about opportunities to progress, and also the things that might get in your way.
One of the best ways to progress steadily through the thesis is to follow a loose framework. This framework should give you an idea of what is required of you and also a valuable structure to your research. Ask yourself – when is the NON-NEGOTIABLE date of submission? Discuss this issue with your supervisor. Once you have a date in mind, work backwards from this date to build a realistic project plan which has specific deadlines built into it. Your supervisor will be able to advise you on what is a realistic submission date. And remember – when you are settling targets, they have to be realistic and timed.
There are some useful questions to ask of yourself when the going gets tough:
- What motivates you?
- What de-motivates you?
- What’s the bigger picture?
- When did you last reward yourself?
- Who else cares about your work?
- How do you deal with boredom/tedium?
If you realise that you procrastinate far too much, then it’s wise to create a strategy which will help you to avoid this. Ultimately it’s up to you to recognise your areas of weakness and plan to overcome these gradually.
Now is the time to make the best use of feedback too. Consider whether you are getting enough feedback – list all the sources of feedback on your work and use it to build a picture of academic competence and quality. This should help to motivate you to continue on the right path. At this stage the PhD is made up of a number of projects and getting immersed in something else which complements your thesis, such as attending or giving a paper at a conference, will help to refresh your goals and affirm that your research is on the right track.