How I do my PhD | Michael Saker

I’m in the final year of my PhD, having recently upgraded in the summer. I’ve decided to use this space to briefly offer fellow PhDers some tips on what has helped me along the way.

Be open to your project moving in different directions. As clich as it is to quote Bruce Lee so early on and I’ve no doubt it has been done many times before, I nonetheless feel compelled and justified in stating: be like water. Don’t constrain your project to an a priori path of progression devised in its infancy. Instead allow it the space needed to evolve and transform in interesting and un-thought of ways. This will then provide the opportunity to pursue potentially new avenues of interest, which could enrich your thesis.

Build a good relationship with your supervisors. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. A good relationship with your supervisors will not only increase your interest in your own project, which you will of course already be interested in; it will, hopefully, increase your supervisors interest in your project too. Defining your own area of research can be a wonderfully edifying process. However, beyond this, observing your supervisors supervision can also help you to fine tune your critical eye and pre-emptively avoid crossing paths of inconsistency.

Plan your time wisely. Obvious I know, but let me state it nevertheless. Avoid spending months and months on one specific task. I learnt early on that spending too much time on one particular nuance can lead to an acute case of myopia. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t explicate certain areas of interest in a deep and focused fashion, as this is of course part and parcel of the PhD process. What I am advising is to make sure you occasionally check your original point is still tethered to the vessel from which it descended; as I have all too often come to the surface only to find myself adrift in the doldrums.

Variety is important. If one facet of your work dries up then swiftly move on to another watering hole. Indeed, if you’ve reached a part of your chapter that has got you stumped, for whatever reason, shift gear and try doing something that requires a different part of the brain (perhaps the bit labelled painless). Then when you feel refreshed, go back and try again.

Immerse yourself in university life. I know this sounds platitudinal, but build new networks and be open to working with a variety of different people. Forge connections that aren’t immediately apparent and adopt a mind-set that can adapt to novel configurations, as and when they emerge. Take the time to see what other students are doing, and attend guest lectures as a point of principle. In short, ring every last drop out of the PhD process. (Again, apologies if this all sounds a bit trite.)

Set yourself deadlines and stick to them. A structured regime correlates with success. I like to know what I intend to accomplish on any given day/week and then stick to it as best I can. Procrastination often stems from a lack of structure. I’m not suggesting work constantly; what I am suggesting is when you do work, work effectively. An unflinching system will help you achieve this.

Make time for friends. PhDs can be extremely isolating. I went from seeing numerous people on a daily basis to being on my own the majority of the time. This solitude is then doubly felt by way of the esotericism any PhD brings in its wake. A corollary to this is a small disagreement I now have with Sartre’s dictum hell is other people. From my position, hell is quite the opposite: it is a lack of other people.

It’s just a PhD. Just as Hitchens reminds us to picture all experts as if they were mammal, so too do I like to remind myself this is just a qualification. Don’t become disheartened by the apparent success of this or that student. Focus on your own work, and keep in mind that we all operate differently. Lastly, look after yourself, mentally and physically, and make sure you don’t become your PhD.


Guest Blogger | Michael Saker 

Michael Saker is a final year PhD student at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Southampton University, United Kingdom. His research is on Convergence Device and Pervasive Play, and his research interests include new mobile technologies, location-based play, and changing understandings of urban space. Outside of his thesis, he enjoys playing the guitar, making/listening to music, philosophy, going to the gym, photography and reading. You can find Michael on Twitter @michael_saker

This post was originally published on the PhD Life Blog in 2013.

Photo Credit: Nic McPhee/Creative Commons 

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