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About this book

This practical guide is full of advice on how to make the most of the PhD experience. It covers the practicalities of embarking on a PhD and guides students through the process, from selecting a topic and securing finance to writing and publishing their thesis. It also includes a wealth of workshop activities to help students sharpen their focus and clarify their thoughts, and top tips for further development.

This is an essential guide for all current and soon-to-be PhD students. It also offers useful guidance for anyone considering pursuing research-based career.

Table of Contents

Deciding to do a PhD

1. You have an idea …

Abstract
Something may have caught your interest from a personal or professional experience, or intrigues you from previous study — and this has become the focus for your PhD.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

2. What kind of PhD?

Abstract
The PhD (‘Doctor of Philosophy’ whatever your subject) is traditionally a minimum 3-year period of full time study, by the end of which you will have produced an extended piece of writing, typically in the range of 60,000–100,000 words. This ‘thesis’ is an apprentice piece that demonstrates your capabilities as a researcher at the highest level. It will present new knowledge and demonstrate an important contribution to your subject area. Examiners who are highly qualified in your field (usually one internal, one external) assess the thesis and, if it is acceptable, and you are able to defend it in an oral examination (a viva), you are awarded a PhD.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

3. Full time or part time?

Abstract
Full time or part time study may be a matter of choice, or it may be determined by your circumstances. Consider whether you …
  • can afford to study full time — or is it just not possible? If you do not have funding (see p. 8), how will you manage?
  • have an end date in mind? And is it realistic? Figures from HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) will give you an idea of the variation between different universities and departments.
  • have something (or someone) to place a specific deadline on your completion?
Both ways of studying for a PhD result in the same end, but they are very different experiences.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

4. Funding it

Abstract
You have an idea that excites you. You now need to ask yourself, ‘Can I afford to do this?’ and then ask, ‘Can I afford not to do this?’ You could just say ‘No’ to the first question, and forget the whole idea. But it’s more difficult to ignore the second … So, where do you start?
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

5. Choosing your university

Abstract
The decision about where you do your PhD will be based on a balance of considerations: the opportunity, supervisor, department, university, town/city, country. Some of us are tied to one geographical location (family, work commitments): for others the world is our oyster. The key drivers are the funded research project, the supervisor, and the research centre or department.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

6. Making your application

Abstract
When you have explored these possibilities you are ready to make an initial application. Follow the instructions and format provided by the institution meticulously. Incomplete applications will not be considered at all.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Getting Started

7. Week 1

Abstract
You may find that you walk into a well-organised and well-thought-out programme of introductions to the various aspects of life as a research student in your institution — in which case go with the flow and enjoy …
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

8. What’s in your handbook?

Abstract
The first week anywhere new is a time of establishing yourself within the group and arranging things on your desk (if you have one). This may be tinged with frustration at bewildering administrative procedures, and perhaps anxiety about what may lie ahead. This is the time to open the handbook and be proactive!
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

9. The researcher’s toolkit

Abstract
Your university will offer introductory courses which will develop your skills as a researcher. It is worth finding out what these are and making the effort to take any that could help you. Some universities repeat the courses during the year, so you don’t have to do them all at once.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

10. Who am I? What’s expected of me?

Abstract
When you start, you may know exactly what you want from a PhD, the topic you are going to study, and exactly how you are going to undertake your research — but you’re probably wrong.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Becoming a Researcher

Frontmatter

11. Establishing a relationship with your supervisor(s)

Abstract
Your relationship with your supervisor(s) will be very different from your relationships with previous tutors. It is both more personal, in that you get to know each other well, and more professional, in that you will be expected to work independently and manage your working relationships. It can also be a delicate relationship, involving a shifting balance of knowledge and power. You may have one, two or even three supervisors — between us, we had this range.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

12. The ethics of research

Abstract
All research activity is governed by codes of practice and/or professional codes (e.g. The British Educational Research Association). These identify three key points for consideration: general principles, the use of human and animal subjects, and intellectual property.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

13. Finding and managing sources

Abstract
Tracking down and managing sources is the bread and butter of research, and a disorganised or unsystematic approach can lead to problems later on. The following points will help you to set up a coherent and manageable literature search strategy from the start.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

14. What are you reading for?

Abstract
How you read is just as important as what and how much you read.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

15. Being a researcher in a multi- or interdisciplinary area

Abstract
You may become engaged in inter- or multidisciplinary research because your research question requires a number of disciplinary perspectives, or your PhD may be part of a wider, funded research project staffed by researchers from a range of disciplines. In either case, it is worth understanding the peculiarities of this type of research, as it can involve some distinctive opportunities and challenges.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

16. Writing up or writing down?

Abstract
There are many different ways of using writing in your research, and you don’t need to wait until you have a fully formed argument before you start.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

THE WORKSHOP — Mapping your research process

Part 4. THE WORKSHOP — Mapping your research process

Abstract
This section is different from the rest of the guide. Here we invite you to do some practical work — to join our ‘workshop’. The purpose is to help you clarify your thinking and sharpen your research question in preparation for writing about your research plans in the early stages of your research (see Part 5). You do not have to do it all at once, but do take it in sequence. Start when you have a clear 15 minutes to do the first workshop activity, and go from there.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Writing Research Plans

Frontmatter

17. How will your research plan be read?

Abstract
Your readers will be looking to see:
  • your clarity of purpose: What is your aim? What are you trying to find out? What kind of answer are you looking for?
  • your awareness of the scope of the relevant literature — and gaps within it
  • your justification or rationale for your research
  • your research methodology comprising the design and methods you plan to use, looking at soundness, appropriateness and feasibility
  • the relevance and significance (not the same thing …) to the field
  • and your strategy for managing the project, including your timescales.
In short, your readers will be looking both for the essential qualities of research that is likely to make a contribution to the field, and for evidence that you can manage this ambitious project.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

18. What’s in a research plan?

Abstract
The exact format of these plans will vary between institutions, disciplines and departments with varying details in the sections. Compare the list of possible elements on the next page with what you are asked to produce.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

19. Writing your literature review

Abstract
A literature review is a summary, synthesis and evaluation of the available literature on a particular topic. It is a process, not necessarily a chapter title. You may have several chapters, suitably titled, that deal with different aspects of the relevant literature. Your reading from Day 1 will contribute to it.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

20. Writing your introduction

Abstract
The purpose of any introduction is to draw your reader into your argument and lead them to your aim(s) — not to offer them a tour of your subject area. Once you see this clearly, you will focus on looking out to your reader, not looking in to your knowledge. You can then see your introduction as a series of ‘moves’.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Finding Audiences for your Research

Frontmatter

21. Conferences

Abstract
Attending and giving papers at conferences allows you to:
  • gain access to the latest research
  • network with researchers in your field and identify potential external examiners and
  • future collaborators
  • feel part of a research community
  • hone your ideas into a presentable form
  • receive feedback on your research
  • practise presentation skills for your MPhil/PhD upgrade or future lecturing career.
It is a good idea to attend at least one conference before you give your first conference paper.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

22. Publication

Abstract
For people who are taking the PhD by publication route, publishing is the core business, but for those who are producing a ‘big book’ PhD, publication along the way is equally important for a number of reasons, such as to:
  • develop your ideas, arguments and writing
  • give you tangible milestones in the PhD process
  • gain feedback from peer reviewers, bringing in different or unexpected perspectives
  • learn about the differences between writing a thesis and writing a journal article
  • stake a claim to your research area, and to your intellectual property
  • gain experience in defending your work — useful for the viva
  • build up a publication record, necessary for gaining an academic job after your PhD.
Publication will increase your value to your own and other institutions by building up possible submissions to research monitoring processes, in particular the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Once your work is published, it can be cited by others. In REF terms, work becomes more ‘valuable’ the more it is cited.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe
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