The final stages of a PhD are arguably the hardest; the pressure to finish up ahead of a deadline combined with the anxiety of ensuring that your work meets the criteria for a PhD set by your university (generally that it represents a substantial original piece of work) can make for a very hard time. In the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, funding is often only provided for a period of three years, where in reality a PhD thesis can take up to four years to write. So what if your funding has run out, but you still need to work on the thesis? This article offers some advice on how to navigate the stressful final months of a PhD while also staying above the breadline. Above all, it seeks to offer some suggestions for what to avoid in order to successfully complete a PhD.
1. DO speak to your supervisors about your impending lack of funding. They may have some suggestions for finding paid work within your department, although it should be noted that your supervisors are often most concerned with ensuring you complete your PhD on time, so be wary that they may not be as sympathetic to you taking on paid work as you might like.
2. DO speak to friends and colleagues working in your institution. Sometimes it can be helpful to take on work which involves very little physical presence but which can be undertaken from home, such as helping out with your department’s website or assisting a researcher on advertising their project.
3. DO speak to colleagues at other institutions. Sometimes conversations with colleagues can lead to new opportunities for paid work elsewhere, which can help to develop your CV at the same time as providing some income.
4. DO try to keep your costs down. If you’re having to travel very far to undertake work while finishing your PhD then this will have an adverse effect both on your finances and on your ability to work on the PhD. If you have to take on some paid work, it tends to be most helpful if this can be done from home to prevent unnecessary expenditure on travel.
5. DO contact any learned or academic societies or subject associations of which you are a member: these associations sometimes require postgraduates to carry out some website work or they may want someone to help with other forms of marketing.
6. DON’T take on too much paid work. The temptation can be to seize every opportunity for some income, but taking on too much work can have a detrimental impact on the progress of your thesis.
7. DON’T take on any work which requires too much preparation and/or marking. Marking and assessment, while often well remunerated if it is not part of PhD funding, is time consuming and can eat into the time dedicated for PhD thesis writing.
8. DON’T lose sight of the end goal. The thesis has to remain the main priority, despite all of the attractions that paid work can bring. Even in the darkest days of thesis writing-up, it is important to remember that the thesis will bring far greater opportunities once it is complete.
9. DON’T ignore your supervisors. While in some cases it might seem as though your supervisors have different priorities (often driven by institutional or departmental pressure to ensure PhD completion), their advice will generally be more valid and supportive than ever in the final stages of the PhD. Ignoring or failing to contact them on a regular basis can have a detrimental effect on the final thesis.
10. And finally, DON’T give up hope. There are always opportunities for some form of work in universities: using your contacts and searching on Jobs.ac.uk can yield opportunities which you may never guessed during the first years of your PhD. Remember, too, that no matter how far the thesis may seem from completion, hard work and determination (plus the occasional all-night slog) will help you to see the thesis through to the end.