Ten Stages of the PhD Journey: Good Advice from Many Experts

Designing, executing and writing up a PhD study takes a large chunk of your time and energy. Here is an overview of each stage of the process along with a list of excellent articles that will help you with different parts of your PhD journey. Some of the advice offered here may be specific to a discipline, country or university, or is heavily dependent upon one person’s experience. Nevertheless, you are likely to find most of this advice and instruction helpful in some way.

 1. What do you hope to achieve by completing a PhD?

It is important for you to seriously consider why you are undertaking a PhD and what you hope to achieve by completing a PhD

*   9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD by Andy Greenspon

*   Familiarise yourself with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

*   A successful PhD student will be expected to possess key research skills and knowledge as listed here: Research degree graduate qualities by the University of South Australia

 2. Writing a Research Proposal

You might be offered a PhD project where the research proposal is already planned or you might need to devise a research proposal yourself, either before or after you have chosen a supervisor.

*   How to write a research proposal for a strong PhD application by the University of Sydney

 3. Choosing a PhD supervisor

Some students have one key supervisor, while it is not unusual for some students to have three or four. It is important to remember that your supervisor may have many students under their direction, so their time may be strictly limited. At Monash University, research supervisors receive accreditation training.

*   Choosing a PhD supervisor by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

*   You and your supervisors by the University of South Australia

 4. Setting up a research budget

An essential project management skill when conducting research is the ability to effectively design and manage research budgets. If you need to request finances through a grant application, ensure you thoroughly investigate the necessary guidelines.

*   Budget Guidelines for Research Support Grants by the NHMRC.

*   How to make a simple research budget by Jonathan O’Donnell

*   6 steps to drafting a grant application Liza O’Donnell & Marina Hurley

 5. How to find completed PhD theses

It is always a good idea to check other PhD theses that are similar to your topic, have been completed recently and have been produced by your university department. You can gain a wealth of ideas about structure, size and overall thesis design.

*   How to find a thesis by Macquarie University

*   Finding Australian theses by the Council of Australian University Librarians

And on this page, there are other really useful inks:

 6. How to structure and format your thesis

Exactly how to structure and format your thesis will vary greatly depending upon your department, your university and your discipline. Always refer to your university’s guidelines for thesis format requirements. For example:

*   Style and format by the University of Western Australia

*   Thesis format requirements by the University of Queensland

*   Thesis structure by the University of New South Wales

 7. Writing a thesis with submitted papers

Increasingly, students are allowed, or even required, to submit a large proportion of their thesis as published papers. Not every PhD project can be easily written up as separate papers; however, take a look at recently submitted theses to see how people have done this.

*   What is a ‘thesis by publication’? by the University of Sydney

*   Six Misconceptions about the Three-Paper Route by PhD Life

 8. How to write a literature review

Reviewing the literature is important to assist your knowledge and understanding of your topic. Writing good literature reviews is crucial to show your examiners how well you know the literature. It is a common requirement that you write a separate chapter as a stand-alone literature review. However, for those theses that are predominantly composed of complete published papers, there might not be a requirement for a separate review section.

*   How do I write a literature review? by the University of Sydney

*   Writing a publishable literature review paper – four options by Pat Thomson

 9. Submitting your thesis

The process of submitting your thesis may include preparing additional tasks and preparation of paperwork (i.e. the Originality Statement).

*   Thesis Submission by UNSW

*   Submitting a thesis by the Australian National University

 10. The examination process

Usually there are three examiners. However, the process of thesis examination will vary widely according to discipline and university. Broadly speaking, your examiners will recommend that your thesis be accepted without alteration, accepted with minor alteration, accepted providing major changes are made or rejected. Usually your supervisor will choose who your examiners are and you may have the opportunity to choose one of your examiners.

*   HDR Thesis Submission and Examination Procedure by James Cook University

*   Examination Process by the University of Western Australia

An oral examination for a PhD is not common in Australia universities but are sometimes required depending upon university, discipline or if there is a particular aspect of your thesis that requires clarification

*   Guidelines for the oral defence of the thesis by the University of South Australia

If there are any problems…

If things go drastically wrong at any time, it is essential that you seek assistance as early as possible. There are people within your university administration who are there to help you. To help dealing with problems, document any issues as they arise. It is essential for you to have excellent time-management and record-keeping skills.

*   Resolving problems by the University of Melbourne

*   Grievances, Complaints and Problems During Candidature by the University of Adelaide

*   Resolving problems by Griffith University

And remember…

*   Be aware of, and employ, sound project management skills including risk management protocols to identify alternative actions in unforeseen circumstances.

*   Keep records and extra copies of everything: for example, data, thesis drafts, email, meeting agendas, fieldwork notes. Ensure you have excellent electronic version control of your documents and extra backups of all your data and work.

*   Ensure you develop and maintain a support network of friends and colleagues who may give important advice and help you deal with any obstacles.

*   Get plenty of exercise, rest and sleep.

© Marina Hurley 2017

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