How to Plan Your PhD - Planning Your Time

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You’ve got three years+, which sounds like an enormous amount of time, but then again, you’ve got to produce a thesis of up to 100,000 words – a daunting task.

However, by breaking the process down into steps, a realistically planned PhD schedule, with clear goals built in along the way, can help ensure that the big deadline (ie the submission of the final draft of your thesis) is well within sight from the outset. Without one, students risk spending too much or too little time on the various stages of their study – or running out of time altogether. It’s easy to put something off if the deadline is months away, but if you’ve set yourself a goal of achieving x, y and z by Friday, it’s much easier to focus and get motivated.

How students plan their PhD study is up to the individual, it’s all part of the self-motivation and discipline that is key to PhD study. As the University of Leicester’s study guide on conducting a research dissertation stresses: “It is not your supervisor’s job to chase you into completing your dissertation, or to tell you how to manage the different stages of the project.” Supervisors can, however, advise on a research plan and whether a schedule is realistic.

Drawing up a PhD schedule

Your research proposal is a good starting point as you can start allocating time to all of the things you have proposed to do. Practicalities such as any travel abroad, fieldwork or conferences can be blocked out from your study schedule and can also help shape your research plan. Regular meetings with your supervisor and timings of any research that involves other people should, as far as possible, be agreed with them and in their diaries too. Personal commitments such as holidays, weddings etc, can also be factored in.

How much time you devote to each stage of your study is again, up to you, but as a rough guide, Dr Catherine Armstrong, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University suggests that “an obvious division of labour is: year one, finding your feet and doing preliminary secondary research; year two doing your own research; year three writing up,” (in “Top Ten Tips for Doing Your PhD”).

Day-to-day planning

As with any major project, keeping your work ticking over and avoiding procrastination is really the only way to ensure that your long term goals are achieved. Try and keep a set number of hours devoted to your study, and then reward longer periods of concentration with a proper break away from the lab, computer screen or archive.

Stay flexible

Conducting original research means there is an element of the unknown in your work and for this reason alone, it may sometimes be necessary to change your plans, subject to a discussion with your supervisor.

Time for revisions

Once you have finished the first draft of your thesis it will need time for revisions. You may even have to go back and collect more data. Your supervisor will be able to advise a suitable amount of time to allocate for this.

Useful links

Top Ten Tips for Doing Your PhD

Planning and conducting a dissertation research project published on the University of Leicester website

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