Tips for new doctoral students
- Remember: a doctorate is a test of your resilience, as well as your intellect. It will get difficult at times (no one finds it easy), but you have to work through the challenges remembering that it is a project of finite scope
- Discover on-line lectures (e.g. Jason J Campbell on YouTube, lectures from Yale on iTunes University) to help develop/validate your understanding
- Invest in Endnote (or try a free online service: citeulike). Use it religiously and learn how to import citations (it will save you dozens of hours of effort)
- Learn how to cite references properly and be highly disciplined from the start (this will save you hours of time and anguish later on)
- Keep a journal to note down your thoughts, discuss key events/challenges and provide evidence of reflective learning through the research process
- Learn to differentiate between positivist and interpretative methodological paradigms and adhere to your chosen stance consistently
- Learn to differentiate between research methods and research methodologies (methods involve tools to collect and analyse data, methodologies are philosophical approaches to research that influence the choice of methods to use)
- Identify and adopt a theoretical perspective to orientate the exploration of your research topic. Are you, for example, a critical feminist, a postmodernist, a critical theorist, a pragamtist, etc?
- Be permeable to uncomfortable ideas: is objective social science research really possible?
- Backup your work religiously (including your Endnote library and output style file). Try a free on-line storage service like Sky Drive or Dropbox
- It is essential that you begin to write your thesis from the start of your studies - do not spend, say, two years reading and have nothing to show for it
- If you can't motivate yourself to read when you have time to study, watch an online lecture instead (see point above)
- Don't retreat into the comfort of the literature - get out into the field and collect some data early on (but consult your supervisor before doing so to ensure ethical issues have been considered)
- Don't worry if a specific research 'problem' is difficult to identify during your first year - read relevant literature and draft potential research questions until the core problem comes into focus
- Don't worry about the title of your study until you have written a full first draft at least. The potential title will become more apparent as the study progresses
- Don't attempt to rush as a doctorate cannot be completed quickly or superficially (it will take at least 4 years to complete part-time) Enjoy the 'deep' learning that is intrinsic to doctoral study
- Do not delete / destroy any of your notes or early drafts (archive them if case you want to refer back to them later)
- It sounds obvious, but: write down the page number and title of anything you read and find remotely interesting. It will drive you nuts trying to remember where you have read something 6 months later!
- Snowball your work: start with a snippet on a particular topic, build into a sentence, then a
paragraph, then a section. Knit sections together to form chapters
- Be prepared to redraft and refine your work often. As your knowledge and understanding develops, your initial work will need refreshing
- Read other people's PhD/EdD thesis - these can be accessed in your library or online via the free British Library ETHOS system
- Disseminate your research early on - e.g. give presentations, setup a website, write articles. Though daunting, it'll build your confidence and contribute to your programme learning outcomes
- Read the programme handbook and identify the intended learning outcomes. Make specific reference to the learning outcome within the thesis e.g. 'my analysis generates new insights into x and therefore represents an original contribution to knowledge'
- Use wikipedia to read up on background topics of interest (e.g. biographies, key concepts/topics/terms), but return to peer reviewed literature to follow up topics of
- Seek out like-minded individuals with whom you can discuss your research and obtain friendly advice and guidance
- Invest in key texts related to your field of study. Amazon and ebay might well sell these for pennies