Doc wisdom

I have prepared a factsheet on the responsibilities of doctoral researchers, and the responsibilities of their supervisors.  The Responsibilities factsheet [PDF] draws relevant information from the Handbook for Research and Professional Doctorate Students 2009/10.

Answers to the question: “What do you know *now* that you wish you had known *before* your final year?”

Sample: 600 doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex. All were  registered, and in year 3 or above (full-time) or year 5 or above (part-time) of their studies, which includes researchers on continuation status. Responses: 38 (6.3%) as of 26th March 2009.

  • A more detailed structure of the thesis, the structure of the articles and the different sections
  • That teaching takes a lot of time and it is not worth doing if you do not know the subject very well.
  • Make sure your files are all labelled clearly, and that any data is also labelled clearly (variable names etc.), because you will almost certainly end up revisiting your earlier work when writing up.
  • I wish I had received training in NVivo before my fieldwork started and had used it along with interviewing and transcribing.
    [the Doctoral School provides NVivo workshops to doctoral researchers and research staff.  We run a workshop as soon as we have sufficient demand, so email doctoralschool@sussex.ac.uk to be placed on the waiting list]
  • Keep your research ideas simple, they become complex on their own!
  • It is very difficult to work and write up at the same time. If you can avoid getting a job during your final year try to.
  • Formatting figures and getting the layout correct takes much longer than you think. Don’t just allow time to “write”.
  • Make sure you keep track of your supervisor’s time table so you can send them drafts when they have no excuse to say they are too busy to read them!
  • Be prepared for the fact that you might have to radically change the structure as you develop the thesis.
  • Work as many hours on it as you can right from the start, don’t put it off.
  • Don’t say yes to any more research while you are writing. What you have done has to be enough.
  • How quickly the time goes.
  • How long my reading list actually is! And how it could keep expanding infinitely…
  • That 80,000ish words isn’t really that many when you get into it – I find myself cutting away a lot of material that I thought I would use, but actually won’t.
    [Maximum word lengths for theses differ by discipline - see Section 6.9 of the Handbook for Research and Professional Doctorate Students 2009/10 [PDF 315kb] for guidelines.]
  • That my thesis would change so much over the course of the 3 years.
  • And I wish I had had the time management ethos that I feel I have now when I was in my first year.
  • That I was much more familiar with my work after the proofreading process than I had envisaged prior to my final year (when I found the prospect of detail in my thesis daunting, because of the duration over which I had written it)
  • How long the proofreading and submission process takes – binding is surprisingly quick (I expected days, not hours), but proofreading was very time consuming.
    [NB - the Library no longer provides a thermal binding service, so you will need to get your first-submission thesis copies bound elsewhere.  The library at Brighton University is one place that do this for you (at a cost).]
  • Just how much I would have to amend the thesis in order to make it suitable for publication – book writing is a very different game.
  • That everyone wishes that they had more data and more time. I never will have, but that’s ok anyway. There will be enough data for my thesis.
  • That I’m so glad I started using the Profolio Training Planner because I still use it to document my professional development.
  • That things go wrong and that’s ok.
  • That despite every good intent, 60 seconds of my time amounted to only half a minute of distance run during most of the second year. Not much help for those who have arrived at their final year but it does help explain why the workload is often so unevenly distributed.
  • How to use, and which to use, software that will help to organize work.
  • Other than that, I think learning is what a Phd is all about, so I would have changed nothing… then again I haven’t finished so I am not sure what I know actually worked.
  • How to successfully write using genuine drafts, rather than just attempting to write once off, with only minor revisions afterwards. In particular, how to use the process known as “reverse outlining
  • I wish I had put more emphasis on systematic rigour in collecting my data.
  • To use a reference database – e.g. EndNote or Refman
    [Other alternatives include BibDesk (if you are using LaTeX with OSX); or Zotero (a free plugin that works with the Firefox]browser)]
  • To be more focused on getting publications
  • Not in final year. Stuff I wish I knew at the beginning of my DPhil relates to my subject, nothing for general use
  • I wish I’d read “the unwritten rules of PhD research” at the beginning of the 1st year rather than at the end of it – but that’s about it!
  • I wish I had known that it was going to take me longer than I thought to finish my DPhil. If I knew that I would have started writing-up my thesis much earlier!!!
  • I know now that the topic on which I am writing my thesis is quite different to the one I had in mind when I started my DPhil (actually, it is also quite different from what I had in my research outline).
  • That the PhD is not just another time at school, it’s almost as good as a work experience as well. If I knew this earlier, I would have paid more attention to my professional development!
  • I would have liked more discussion on the difficulties of accessing interviewees, particularly hard to reach groups, for my research. If I had realised the difficulties in timeI may well have changed topic as a result.
  • What I had not realised was how long it took to get all the layout,pagination, fig numbers etc etc correct. My supervisors are absolutely great ….but had not impressed on me the importance of this! [equally my fault for not checking all was ok!] it is the ‘devil in the detail’ scenario!
  • hat the ”literature review” is not a single-first step when starting your research, but it is a continuous process that goes along all your research project. I mean, it is a process that helps you to keep setting up new questions *all* the time and not only at the beginning of the research. As a consequence, it cannot be said ”I finished with my literature review” and it must be emphasized to continue setting up questions at all stages.
  • I would have liked to know before that you do not need the supervisor’s approval to hand in your thesis, so that if you are in disagreement with him/her you can go forward and try the Viva.
  • More information with examples on the structure and process of pre-viva, viva, viva- outcome, post-viva, and award of degree activities.
    [This has been addressed in the (very draft) document "Submission Timeline [PDF]“]

6 thoughts on “Doc wisdom

    Pearls of research wisdom « Doctoral School blog said:
    December 13, 2011 at 09:10

    [...] Doc wisdom [...]

    Craig said:
    July 22, 2011 at 14:15

    Hi this is a great list – some of these issues came up at a recent round table discussion for doctoral researchers in the research hive…see our blog for more details….

    http://sussexresearchhive.blogspot.com/2011_07_01_archive.html

    Fili said:
    September 27, 2010 at 02:18

    This list is terrific. Thanks for putting this together.

    -Shared this with the rest of our PhD students on-

    Sam Hardy said:
    August 25, 2010 at 16:54

    The word limit is remarkably tight.

    For example, ours is 80K including the bibliography, UCL’s is 100K excluding it. So, if you discount ~10K for the theory and ~10K for the methodology from both (and ~20K for the bibliography from Sussex’s), the body of a DPhil thesis at Sussex is half the length of the body of a PhD thesis at UCL.

    Feedback « Doctoral School blog said:
    May 26, 2010 at 14:11

    [...] Doc wisdom [...]

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Skills Training, Graduate Development. Graduate Development said: “What do you know *now* that you wish you had known *before* your final year?” – Collected wisdom at: http://tinyurl.com/y2t9pkp [...]

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