PhD success - some feedback for others

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Hello all and greetings via my first post.

I defended my thesis at a viva a month ago and I have now deposited the revised thesis. I will graduate in the summer at which point the doctorate, and title, becomes official.

I spent somewhere in the region of 5 - 6 years working on my PhD spread over the period from late 2007 until March 2014

I wrote 25000 words for the thesis

There were 130+ references cited through seven chapters

The thesis comprised 160+ pages

I wrote it every night and every weekend starting in August 2012, averaging around 1000 hours to complete it.

I did it part-time in the evenings after work and at weekends

My full-time employer gave me, on average, 2.5 study days each year

I mentioned thesis length; it was something about which I was concerned. Of possible interest:

In the end, I realised that in my subject (experimental physics) I just needed to write down what I had done. My supervisor (who was and is superb) helped me make it much less wordy and, in fact, one thing I have learned during this period is to be a more succinct writer. My grammar has improved also.

Murder requires the Means, Motive and Opportunity and doing a PhD has parallels but you need , above all else, Motivation. If you pick a subject in which you're interested, and you have a good supervisor, you're onto a winner.


continued in another post - run out of space!

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(PhD success - some feedback for others ... cont.):

I used LyX as a front end to LaTeX as the authoring "engine" as opposed to Word or OpenOffice. I have written lots of reports etc. using those usual word processors but LyX is different and is a document processor. It has different headaches but it really does allow you to get on with the content and not worry about the formatting. If you need maths formulae or chemistry equations, LyX is brilliant. I have used Word for the same things and it is nowhere near as good. LyX generates a perfectly formatted PDF as its output which can go straight off to the printers and the results are excellent and somehow look "just right" compared with Word etc.

If your thesis is going to need lots of cited references, do use a reference manager and do start populating it the day you get accepted onto a PhD i.e. as early as possible. I used JabRef. It makes editing/moving/inserting references very very easy. I cannot say the same for Word or OpenOffice.

My viva - two examiners and me, in a room, for two hours. They had clearly read the whole thing in detail and picked up on a comma with a space before it, a full stop with the same problem, two equations where I had muddled up various lower-case/subscript letters, and a graph where the scale wasn't easy to read in monochrome. I corrected them all the same day and resubmitted and then deposited via the University Library the next day. Done!

If your work *could* make use of ten experiments/books/statues/models to implement/review/make/analyse, but actually one would suffice, choose to do one rather than ten. Then justify why. I went down the route of computer modelling hundreds of aspects, just because to have done one and not the other 199 seemed to me to be incomplete and insufficiently diligent. However, the work contributed about a page to the thesis (but admittedly did help formulate a couple of hypotheses).

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(PhD success - some feedback for others ... cont.): and finally

Get into a habit. Do some work every day. Even if it is only an hour, sometimes it will be many more and that will make up for the slack. If you have the occasional day off, you'll not feel so guilty if you can justify to yourself your previously thorough track record.

Another website (possibly "thethesiswhisperer") said to write it all down and then edit it to something cogent. I didn't start out with that view in mind, but that's effectively what happened in the end because I re-wrote many many times with help from my supervisor. His expert eye was essential.

It was not easy, but then again it shouldn't be. I have now contributed to the pool of human knowledge with something original. It's incremental rather than revolutionary and it is the joining up of two unconnected areas to introduce a third, new, technique.

I will try to answer any specific questions but I offer these posts as an encouragement for those of you who are yet to be in my position - finished it, passed it, don't need to do a blind bit of work on it ever again!


Thanks for the tips here. Really good info! In my last year of MSc and taking your advice to do a little everyday!


Congratulations on your success, and thanks for the tips - sounds like you took a very sensible 'long haul' approach.