Dr Who? What You Can Expect From Your PhD Experience

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Before you embark on your PhD journey, it’s worth considering that you are taking on an objective that is at the very upper end of the scale of achievable qualifications. To use a mountaineering analogy, your challenging undergraduate degree was a walk in the foothills, your postgrad saw you headed for base camp, so a PhD sees you set for an assault on the summit!

So what can you expect?

Although the overall goal is a remarkable one, like the journey to any summit, much of your PhD journey will be self-driven, and likely self-funded. While it can be at times lonely and there will be periods of isolation, the enriching experience of delivering work at this level represents the pinnacle of academic achievement, one reached by, proportionally, very few.

In terms of the research area that you have chosen, make sure you do your homework to ensure that you are choosing the right university with which to partner in order to pursue your PhD. There are certain universities that may excel in a particular area of research, and maybe there is one that is better suited to the area which you wish to study rather than the one in which you have conducted your previous studies and feel relatively comfortable. A PhD represents a new beginning in many ways due to the calibre of work you will be expected to produce so don’t be afraid of making a move to a fresh environment if your work, and by extension you, will likely benefit as a result. Also, it’s important to investigate the potential costs and funding and try to have them in place, or at least a structure you can plan to in order to meet your financial obligations, before you start your research. Otherwise, these can be exceptionally debilitating issues to be distracted by.

Course Content

Structurally, your PhD should take either three or four years to complete and your research in a chosen area will culminate in a detailed thesis/dissertation which crystallises what you have discovered about your chosen area of research. The scale of the thesis project cannot be underestimated. Depending, of course, on your area of research, and what you have agreed with your supervisor, it can be expected to be (approximately) up to 80,000 words in length. In a well-structured PhD, students should aim to have some of their research, which will eventually appear in their thesis, published during the course of their studies.

Leadership is key

As we explained in our article on supervisors, they are fundamental to the successful execution of a PhD project. They are there to support you and provide assistance, as well as occasional questioning, for your chosen area of research. But the direction chosen remains yours, so you must always retain a firm, but constructively self-critical, hand on your work.

You must actively work with your supervisor though in order to keep developing your thesis in a practical and deliverable manner as their role is key when the time comes for you to present your research in a manner that reflects best on both you and the institution. So it’s important that you regularly initiate contact and arrange meetings with clear objectives so you can make the most from this relationship.

PhD goals

Essentially the objective of your PhD is to make a demonstrable impact within your chosen level of research. Your decisions around the structure of your study, your place of study and your choice of supervisor should all be driven by this.

However, while your PhD is very much self-driven, you are by no means truly alone. You will find a wonderful, and mutually collegiate and friendly atmosphere, within almost all research environments. Fellow researchers are in the same boat as you so use their support and company to help you make the most of the experience.


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