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Tips for the Starting-Out Dissertator

I was going through some old PhD working papers recently, and found this list of tips. I wrote it eight months into my twelve-month qualifying program.

Let me explain that. In order to be accepted into a PhD program, I had to show that I was capable of doing and reporting research. Hence, I enrolled in a “qualifying program” which consisted of doing research on a smallish topic, and writing up the results. It was the equivalent of an Honours thesis (which I had never done, hence the requirement to do it this way), except it was a full year program (most Honours theses, in my experience, in reality take six months). My potential supervisor did not know if I could do research at the level required of a doctorate, but graciously allowed me to do this program anyway, to prove it one way or the other.

These tips were written under the heading: What I've Learnt So Far

  • get agreements with supervisor in writing, and signed and dated
  • have regular meetings with supervisor to show progress or lack thereof
  • define topic
  • write methodology and refine as necessary
  • write what evidence would be expected if hypothesis is correct
  • keep a work diary—write up everything that happens, decisions, problems, plans
  • have alternate plans in case research reaches a dead end
  • work out and stick to a timetable
  • be assertive with supervisor
  • manage the relationship with the supervisor, don't expect him/her to manage it.

All these tips are equally relevant to honours, masters and doctoral degrees. If I was doing my PhD again, I would type up these tips, frame them, and put them on the wall above my work desk. I would also laminate them and put them around the house: the bedroom mirror, the bathroom mirror, the fridge, the back of the toilet door. In other words, I would keep them in the forefront of my brain at all times. They are important.

By the way, I proved that I could do research at doctoral level. I got the PhD!

Copyright © Gaye Wilson 2007. All rights reserved.


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