Right now I'm about 6 months into my PhD (psychology/cognitive neuroscience) and I noticed that the other PhD students in my institution seem to fall into two groups: those who power through the last year and submit just after the three year mark, and those who struggle to submit by the end of fourth year (the deadline where I am).
Anyway does anyone have any tips on how to submit closer to three years than four? I'm looking for both people who completed in three years to discuss why they think they acheived that, and people who ran over a little bit to discuss if there's anything they would have done differently? Cheers!
Like Ady, I had most of my data collection done by the third year. I'd made really good progress, but I think I came a bit unstuck when I tired to get two papers in publication during write up - one systematic literature review and a research paper. It knocked my progress back and I did experience a bit of burn out. If I'd have left the papers till after, I would have finished within 3 years. However, it did generally go like clock work and there's not really anything I would change.
Hey Melsie, I'm doing clinical psychology and every person with my supervisor (and most other clinical supervisors) has taken the full four years to submit, mainly due to the lengthy processes required to test clinical populations- ethics, recruitment etc take 10 times longer than people testing non-clinical populations. I am actually due to finish in the 3 years, and to be honest, if I hadn't bothered with the conferences and publications I could probably have managed it in 2.5. I think one reason for this is that I had very few distractions in my first two years and worked extremely hard, often until late in the evenings and over weekends (I didn't have a boyfriend at the time and don't have kids or anything, although I still enjoyed nights out with my mates). I live a 5 minute walk away from my office so don't spend time travelling- others in the team have two children and a long drive/train ride in every day which obviously makes a huge difference. But working so hard has stood me in good stead and I am really glad I pushed myself- at the moment I am pretty much just working 9-5 and one day at the weekend because I'm finding that I just can't spend much more than that just sitting writing up. The other thing is that I now have a fiance as well! But I'm also trying hard to keep a balance, and do my exercise every day etc, have a day out on bikes at the weekend. I think three years can be done, but you need to be organised and write as you go along. I've started my final year with a number of chapters already written and accepted for publication, and although I am struggling a lot more with the results papers, at least I have enough time to spend on them. It's nice to have a bit of a buffer. I am hoping to submit on the three year mark in October, but if I have no job lined up I may slow things down and wait until all my results chapters have been accepted for publication before I submit, just to give me more confidence for what will no doubt be a tough viva! Good luck with it all! KB
Be very organised, hope that nothing goes wrong with your data collection, analysis, write up and get a model supervisor who is organised, efficient, supportive, helpful and interested in your work (i.e. does what they're supposed to do!) Good luck on finding the perfect combination ... I'm still looking!!!
Don't do science is another good way of finishing on time as I know very few students that finish on time as experiments are unpredictable and analysis even more so especially if statistics are involved!
People in the Humanities/Social sciences seem to finish alot quicker as they do not need to rely on such data collection or analyses but may have issues with getting subjects for interviews/questionnaires.
I'd definitely get another supervisor ... things could've been so different!!!! And don't be too over ambitious as that delays things alot if you try to cover too much ground it'll inevitably slow things down when you try to piece everything together as it's very time consuming to integrate lots of different types of data together and make sense of it all! Alot of doing a PhD is about luck - if you have a smooth project you're on a roll and off to a head start but if you have a new an untested project/idea which is what it's supposed about you'll run into difficulties which take time to fix so that slows things down but that's the nature of research!!! What you should do is plan for the unexpected and allow extra time for disasters so if they do occur you have time to sort them out!
Good luck - you need loads of that! :p ;-)
I am hoping to submit this summer, hopefully within the 3 years but if not a month or two after.
I have never worked long hours because it just doesn't work for me. It is important to be consistent throughout the whole thing though.
Attitude and approach to work during the last 12-15 months is definately a deal breaker. I know people who part way into their final year 'accepted' that it might take them longer than the 3 years and so as a result it has done! Generally if you tell yourself something will take a certain amount of time it will do, so it is important to be committed to finishing within the 3 years. if you are relaxed about it you will run over.
You should have a clear plan with deadlines for each chapter during your final year and make sure you meet them. Sounds obvious but again I know plenty of PhD students who haven't set targets.
Working smart is more important than working long hours. It's really easy to find 'relevant' things to do to help you procrastinate. During my final year I decided that if it isn't going to help my PhD or my career then I'm not doing it. E.g. I have presented at a few conferences during my first 2 years so decided not to do any more this year as it is just a distraction.
I am not doing a FT PhD, but I am working FT in Greek education (I am Greek) and I am doing a PT PhD in a UK university.
I am now in my third year and I am writing up. I finished all my research in my second year, I could do it in my first, but I had to go through a very lengthy beaurocratic procedure in order to gain an official research permission to access my participants. So, this was a delay.
Now, as I said, I am writing my thesis. My supervisors want me to complete until September (in exactly 3 years), but I want to complete with the Olympics od 2012 (that is in June/July). I feel that if I push myself to finish in 3 years (as my sups want) I will burn out. So, I prefer to take a bit longer.
But that's only me...
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I took 4.25 years (my Uni. limit was 5 years, though a half baked excuse and £200 'fine' you could go beyond this - one full timer took 7 years, though he did have a family and he did have to change diection - see following). It was generally expected that you'd head towards or over the four year mark.
In my case, the sheer volume of data I produced was the issue (the experimental rig just literally churned the stuff out) and I ended up at 366 pages. However, the external examiner accepted and read it, and I got through with minor corrections, so no problems there - it helped the subject was probably straightforward once written up. I was additionally asked to withdraw some data prior to submission by my supervisor, which I later used for a journal paper.
(One girl in Humanities managed a two / three volume effort at 900 pages plus!!! I don't know what happened to her.)
I guess planning a manageable project with clearly defined goals is a must if you want to get close to the three years and it doesn't help if you're given one set of objectives, just to find as in my case your supervisor is pursuing his own agenda and goals. Leading on from this, working closely with your supervisor to ensure you agree on those goals helps too. (He was a good supervisor, but it doesn't stop me having the odd minor criticism.)
As the project progresses, there will come a point where you have sufficient data to produce an original piece of work that adds to the knowledge data in your subject area. At this stage, calling it a day and writing up in agreement with your supervisor is another good call if possible. This is perhaps where my supervisor should have flagged or I should have realised that I was producing too much data. I was told by my predecessor if the total length was over 200 pages then perhaps it was too long.
Another big plus in aiming at the three year mark is to be writing up as you go along, leaving yourself with less to do in the final push. However, this can backfire if your project takes a sudden change in direction and half the work has to be torn up. Another group coming up with the findings you're working towards doesn't help; that happened to the lad who took 7 years.
Also be sure about writing styles and be as succinct as possible with your wording. Literature Review should discuss and criticise, methodology should report what you did, results on the the results and no discussion (except to clarify the odd point), with discussion kept completely separate. Supervisors will influence this heavily based on how they were told to do it and how they think it should be done. I had problems in that I had to shown the style to write in (not an uncommon problem) for especially my discussion, but once I understood I was able to crack on with the write up.
If you browse the Internet, there are various books that act as guides on how to put a Ph.D. together that may be a help. I was recommended this by my predecessor, purchasable from Amazon:
EDit: out of stock at the moment. Check with the bookshop serving your local Uni. for possible stock.
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My advice would be to ensure that you nail your research question as early as possible.
I'm just about to submit (3 months over a 4 year EngD deadline) and could attribute almost all of that delay to a lack of clarity over what I was basing my research on in the early stages. What I realise now is the critical importance of picking a research question and sticking to it, rather than fishing about for a more exciting, challenging or ground breaking topic.
Also be sure that you plan a reasonable amount of time for parts of the project where you are at the mercy of others (e.g. organising interviews, focus groups or workshops and having chapters reviewed by your supervisors and peers) as it can be extremely frustrating if you have to wait on these individuals.
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