Preparation for doing a PhD

Leonard Bernstein quote
I’ve been looking around the internet for tips about ‘doing’ a PhD and quickly realised that this topic can be broken down into:

  • choosing a topic
  • choosing a supervisor
  • think about funding
  • doing the research
  • keeping track of everything
  • writing the thesis
  • probably something I’m missing here …
  • the viva voce/ interview/ oral examination

The skills I’ve learned relating to project management are very useful and can be applied to the “PhD Project” too. PM involves breaking the project down into sections while at the same time keeping track of the resources of time, money and people in order to deliver the project on time and on budget.

Fortunately I’ve found a topic that I’m pretty excited about and for which, because I’m really interested in it, I’ve already done a certain amount of research. Over last Christmas holidays (which can be a great time to do this kind of intensive work as it’s usually fairly quiet), I wrote up my proposal and put together the bibliography. With this done I contacted a potential supervisor who, after a meeting and some consideration, agreed to act – fantastic! So far so good, that’s steps 1 and 2 above done.
I was fortunate that someone pointed out a possible source of funding to me that would cover the fees. In April I applied for this and in June I was offered a scholarship – double fantastic!!

The next step is the doing of the thing. At this point it can be helpful to read around how to do a PhD but be careful not to do too much of this as it can make it seem daunting. This is where your project management skills can be handy: break down what has to be done, make a mindmap to keep yourself on track and make a good start by being organised from the beginning.

Read   Open source bibliographic reference management

It’s interesting to read Dr Jakob Rosenkrantz de Lasson’s blog about doing his PhD thesis in nanophotonics. In his posts he focusses on the writing not the research. This is very useful. He breaks it down into three posts:

  1. Writing the PhD thesis: Preparing
  2. Writing the PhD thesis: Getting started
  3. Writing the PhD thesis: Finishing

While many of the tips are similar to those for professional writers, I like Jakob’s writing style  and his sense of sensible positivity. If you like it too, all of Jakob’s PhD posts are at

Jakob has a link to – have a look when you need some light relief!

It’s helpful to divide the PhD into two areas: the research and the writing. My next step in the research area is to decide how to keep a track of everything  – managing the research project, the bibliography, PDFs of papers, etc., etc. These are mission critical assets so it’s worth putting the time into organizing them from the start of the project. More about this anon.