PhD applications demand tight proposals and after drafting and redrafting, not to mention interviews, it can seem quite fixed. There is often more directed focus on this stage than there is on the actual process of completing a project. The very nature of research is that it changes. A PhD candidate has to be aware of this fact and have their eyes open as they research for what could be relevant at a later stage. In this light, it can be helpful to reconceptualise both in terms of structure and in terms of timing.
Every project has the key points upon which the final result is based. They may have been conceptualised and theorised in a certain manner for the application but behind that there is a solid theme. So instead of focusing precisely on what is written in the proposal, it is more beneficial to think about central points which underpin the entire project – the columns. It is important to always have these in mind as one works because the way in which the information is used might change – only the completed thesis is final!
Research is interesting: multiple avenues, pistes, sub-topics appear over time. They are not directly at the heart of the project but they keep cropping up. Until the thesis is completed, it is impossible to foresee everything that is going to be included in it so it is worth keeping an eye on this extra information and recording it as it appears. These avenues might become part of the thesis when writing up, or they could be useful if a new approach is adopted. Likewise they could lead to articles or new projects in the future. What is more, often these avenues are only something that appears once the research is underway rather than at the application and proposal stage.
Regarding timing, an application can include timeline for the project but realistically it is only once it is underway, normally with the literature review, that the candidate might realise how much there is to cover. Likewise, the process of writing might be much shorter or longer than expected or there might be a wonderful opportunity to undertake longer research trips than expected. On top of this there is the full swing of term, teaching and conferences to name just a few activities. As such, the timetable needs to be constantly reviewed so that it can be balanced and realistic. Like the proposal, this is open to change, but it is important to stay on top of what needs to be done by when, and how what is currently planned fits towards the project as a whole.
Hopefully, in thinking about the project, both in terms of its components and as a whole, it will be a fully enjoyable experience that will be able to evolve with the candidate’s development.