Research Skills: Planning your PhD

I organised a session for doctoral students at the Instituto de Educação of the Universidade de Lisboa a few weeks ago about how to organise time and work while doing a PhD and I this post is an ‘offspring’ of that session. Click here for the slides.

These were the topics we explored:

  1. PhD Expectations and motivations
  2. PhD Typical milestones
  3. Planning and Managing your PhD (incl. Time management): Goal setting
  4. Look around for support

1. When you start a PhD, or any other big life project, it is important to think why you’re doing it. What are the reasons, the motivations, the ambitions, the expectations… Namely:

  • what do you expect from your supervisor and from yourself?
  • what do you expect to happen in each year of your PhD?
  • what obstacles do you envisage?
  • what are you most looking forward to?

2. There are some typical milestones that seem to be common to most PhD students:

  • Establishing foundations:
    • defining your research interests and questions
    • research methods training
    • plan structure of thesis
    • background reading
    • begin constructing bibliography
    • create some ‘keeping track files
    • start writing
    • project presentation/ defence
  • Further work
    • refine research question(s)
    • write literature review
    • write about methodology
    • submit proposal for conference(s)
  • Data collection
    • ethics
    • identify and recruit participants
    • fieldwork
  • Data analysis
    • create data displays
    • make sense of data
    • write about data
  • Working towards submission
    • review recent literature
    • writing/ rewriting chapters
    • full draft of thesis
    • career planning
    • editing and proof-reading thesis
    • notice of submission/ submission
  • Defence preparation

3. Planning and managing work: Goal setting

It is important to have clear goals, that will help you persevere in times you feel stuck, demotivated, overwhelmed, etc…

Think about your key milestones/ objectives on a short/ medium and long term, i.e. what are the key things you want/ need/ expect to achieve within the next 3 / 6 and 12 months?

It’s also important to think about the way you use you time on a daily basis, how long do you spend sleeping, eating, exercising, commuting, working on your PhD, reading, writing, … can you think of more effective way of using time?

4. Look around for support

Support could come from your supervisor and your peers but there is also a wealth of resources online to be explored. And there are two scholars that I would like to mention here for their online presence and resources are both useful and motivating: