Friday, 27 July 2012

Thesis forum: Reflecting on the PhD

In July the thesis forum welcomed two speakers who shared their experience of the PhD with us. 

Dr Georgios Patsiaouras (Management)
Georgios completed his PhD at Leicester in June 2010 and returned as a Lecturer in September 2011. He emphasised that his discussion of the PhD process was very much his unique experience. It was refreshing to hear a frank account of the ups and downs of completing a PhD. He felt that researchers should regard the four years of the PhD as the training required to become an academic. Georgios juggled teaching, marking, invigilating and publishing three papers during his PhD candidature

When Georgios began to write up his PhD he came up with a strict formula for achieving a consistent  output. Over 7 months he aimed to write 350 words a day, no more or no less. After successfully working to this model, he was left with three months to make revisions and edits and getting the thesis completely ready for submission. He strongly advocated a strict daily routine such as this, acknowledging that it required stamina and concentration. Georgios discussed alienation versus isolation, since both feelings may occur during the writing up stage. Some isolation can be good because it gives you focus, but be careful not to alienate yourself from your institution or your subject field. Find where you can work best, without distraction, and stick to it. 

In terms of the viva, be prepared for different styles of examination. Be grateful to your external supervisor, they are doing you a favour! Make sure you feel confident in your research. This applies both at the APG upgrade stage and in the viva. Do be prepared to feel an anti-climax once the examination is over. You may feel it is hard for a 2-3 hour viva to do justice to four years of work.
Dr Shujaul M. Khan (Biology)
Shujaul's talk combined general advice for current PhD students with examples from his research. His PhD, successfully defended in May 2012, focused on ‘Plant Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of Naran Valley, Pakistan’ in the Western Himalayas.Shujaul started by asking us consider why we started our research project and what we imagined beyond the project. He emphasised that clear aims and objectives were crucial from the outset.

In terms of your subject area, Shujaul suggested that being novel is a good thing and you shouldn't worry if you are embarking on something new and different. Try to be courageous in your approach and remain patient if you encounter difficulties. Shujaul faced some problems over how to link his various data sets: from scientific gatherings to anecdotal evidence from local farmers. But he persevered and provided a clear synthesis and analysis. He acknowledged that you need to be prepared to defend your decisions at every stage of the research process: from your mode of analysis to your choice of language. Shujaul advised always being clear in your use of language. Consider the local context of words you might be using. Are they always appropriate for your audience?

Shujual was successful in publishing a number of different articles during his candidature. He encouraged researchers to make a story of your findings and results. Compel the reader! Shujaul’s preferred model was starting simple, broadening out, and then focusing on the specifics. He had to defend this particular approach at his viva.

Shujaul took a far-reaching view to his PhD. He aimed for a clear conclusion which showed the application (or potential application) of his research. He advised researchers to make sure you suggest the implication your research might have. Emphasise the contribution you are making to further knowledge. Suggest recommendations based on your work to date and discuss your future plans. 

Thank you to both speakers for their inspiring contributions to the forum! 

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