Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tips for Finishing a PhD

I have been lucky to have several friends send me advice on how to approach the final edits of a PhD (or DPhil!), what are the final laps in the stadium after a cross country marathon.

I know some of you are writing too, so I thought I would share them (you can tell when I've added my words). They're more PhD-specific than the general academic tips I shared a year ago. All the best and please do let me know if you have any more to add.

  1. Carve out huge chunks of time to focus.

  2. Set a submission date.

  3. Love the calendar. Set small, manageable, time-specific tasks and make a submission calendar. Tick off targets, be excited about your progress. Know exactly where you stand.

  4. Keep yourself energised. Too many people stop exercising when finishing up DPhil. Keep exercising. Take energising breaks. Become more interested in nature, like pretty flowers and families of ducks. Take deep breaths. Try to rest. Sleep. Routine. Get enough time to reflect, rather than just producing; make sure you are intentional about lifting your head above the water line.

  5. Manage the supervisor relationship. Take responsibility for your own submission. Show the supervisor your submission timetable and stick to it. Make supervisor feel confident in you, but also realise that he or she doesn't have to be for you to finish. Like all good Jedi Padawans, you must outgrow your master.

  6. Know that it can be done. When the task seems insurmountable, consider those who had gone before. If they could do it, so can you. Remember why you're here, that you deserve to be here, and that it can be done. A useful mantra to say, even out loud, is "I can do this".

  7. Find a proof reader. Find someone who will read your whole thesis, nudge you back in line when you've lost perspective, check for typos, make useful (but not too ambitious) suggestions.

  8. Get Brutal. Instead of trying to rework patchy sections, just cut 'em.

  9. It's about the "I-will". Finishing a doctorate may be less about the "IQ" than the "I-will". Finishing requires a tremendous amount of will. Dig deep, and get stubborn.

  10. Just Say No. Anything that is not work or energising rest is a distraction.
and a final thought, one that I picked up when I was reading about poetry, is Paul Valery's adage that a poem can never be finished, only abandoned. I think the same could be said of a thesis.


Good Enough Woman said...

This is so great! But I'm thinking that, in order to follow these suggestions, I might have to quit my job and sell my family.

Or, perhaps, I can just check myself into a hotel with a nice view for a few days, every now and then?


I'm going to review your academic tips as well.

So it seems that you are nearing the end! I'm cheering you on as you make these final laps . . .

Anonymous said...

These are great! And you're welcome to borrow my mantra, which was "It's a marathon, not a sprint" which helped me remember to take it one day at a time! :)

Congrats! Sounds like you're really motivated and making progress, dear AH!

Academic, Hopeful said...

GEW - I am fairly convinced that, for the final months, we have to go a bit feral, in whatever way we can set up for ourselves (hotel or not), in order to use that last bit of enthusiasm for it and get it done...I hope that doesn't sound rubbish from someone without child or extra job. Actually, that's part of why I am going feral now - I need to start working! But, yeah, you def raise some good points...

Ink - Nice to hear from you. Yes to to the Marathon! Took the weekend off after handing in 12 000 on Fri.

Finally, I am getting there! Still a fair way to go in terms of that hideous rewriting, editing and checking footnotes etc, but feel, psychologically, that I am on the downward slope. Can't wait to not have to be quite so serious about myself!

Brennig said...

Soph used to proof-read for PhD students at Worcester (where she used to work). She's good at it - should do it for a living.

I'm a serial editor, can't ever declare something 'finished'.

Kate said...

Very good, AH. I'd add to #2 that you shouldn't get attached to that date: things invariably go awry and getting attached only adds to the pain.

Great list - can't wait until we don't have to think about it, though!!

Academic, Hopeful said...

Me too, Kate! Would love to write posts about pretty, peachy things.

Thanks for your comments.x

Matthew Smith said...

Great advice! Any more bits of knowledge you'd like to pass my way, feel free chime in

John Flood said...

Going feral? That's interesting. I had one friend who refused to shave until he submitted and he ended with a rather long and bushy beard which didn't suit him at all. So careful on far you let that go....

Good tips though. And good luck on this last stretch!