Monday, 21 December 2020

How to finish a PhD

I watched an interesting vlog by Tara Brabazon (2016), providing ten tips for finishing a PhD, which I thought were quite a useful summary. 

  1. Planning is everything: "start with the end in mind" (Covey, 1989); predict and plan to meet likely challenges; have data by the end of the second year; assess your data; understand and explain the dataset including strengths, weaknesses and critique them; ensure there is time to cut away most problematic pieces of the work and therefore strengthen what remains.
  2. Have clear priorities: our job is to write a PhD; everything else is secondary. But temper this with the next point...
  3. It's ONLY a PhD: determine clear boundaries so we focus on what the job is, and getting it complete. Do not agonise about it not being perfect: done is better than perfect (Mewburn, 2012). It is the first real piece of research we do, and our academic career starts after it. 
  4. Discuss feelings: talk about how we feel with partners, supervisors, peers. In particular, supervisors will have solutions that we - and those close to us who have not lived through this many times before - will not have thought of to help; but only if we let them in.
  5. Check software, hardware, wetware: ensure the support systems work, regularly. Backup, backup, backup. Email a copy of our work to ourselves every week. Use version control. 
  6. Read University Regulations: ensure we understand ALL submission and IP requirements. Check that our document will fit those requirements. Ask questions. Ensure that there will be no surprises at submission. Treble-check dates. 
  7. Prioritise health: fitness, food, sleep. Use a diary to carve out time for health activities, use software, technology, relationships to ensure that the wetware does not fail. 
  8. Career planning: think past the end of the PhD programme. Talk to your supervisor about post-PhD publications, and next steps. 
  9. Build relationships: Again, take advice from our supervisors, our colleagues, our peers and our networks to ensure that we keep networking, building research partnerships, and keep connecting. Remember that only 30% of jobs are advertised.
  10. Endings matter: finish our supervisory relationships well, so we have a long-term, professional academic relationship. Finish the PhD well, so we have a document we can be proud of. Finish the University relationship well, so they would have us back. 
All good advice.


  • Brabazon, T. (9 September 2016). Vlog 24 - How to complete your PhD
  • Covey. S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Franklin Covey [ ebook]
  • Mewburn, I. (2012). How To Tame Your PhD. Thesis Whisperer Books [ ebook]

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