PhD Help: Advice for Doctoral Students

PhD Help: Advice to Doctoral Students

5 tips to help you survive a PhD and maintain your sanity. 

PhD help can come in a variety of forms. After starting Doctor John Proofreading after finishing my PhD, I focused on helping other doctoral candidates survive the ordeal. A PhD thesis can take years of study, determination, guts and heartache, which can take its toll on your health, relationships, bank balance and mental state.

PhD Pressures, Depression and Anxiety

I hear, time and time again, of enthusiastic students bursting with energy and dynamism, dropping out or turning to anti-depressants to help with the pressure of struggling to achieve the seemingly impossible. When I started out on my own PhD journey, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. I worked in the research room, helped build a vibrant research community, set up a reading group, became student rep, attended conferences, etc. I thought I had plenty of time. The excitement of working on something I loved was exhilarating. It was great opportunity to develop different skills and to put all of these extra-curricular activities on my CV, but, in retrospect, I should have been strategic in how much time I was dedicating to my research and prioritised my time more effectively. When I reached my third year, I realised how much work I had to do. I received some negative feedback that floored me. I hit a wall and struggled to get past this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. I couldn’t face reading about my subject, picking up the threads of arguments or anything to do with it. I was stuck, depressed and debilitated, with the mounting pressure to succeed.

I was no longer a multi-faceted human being capable of a myriad of thoughts and emotions. I was the PhD. If I failed to write the PhD, I would fail as a human being.

Second Year Dip

This happens in most courses. You start off with enthusiasm and excitement at starting something new and fascinating, then, as the novelty wears off the drive gradually peters out and you end up forcing yourself to even look at a book associated with your topic. Then the final push where you realise you haven’t done enough and you just have to get something in.

Everybody that I met asked me one question. The question that I dreaded and deflected. The question that defined who I was. ‘How’s the PhD?’ I was no longer a multi-faceted human being capable of a myriad of thoughts and emotions. I was the PhD. If I failed to write the PhD, I would fail as a human being. I deflected the question with sarcasm, monosyllables and various diversionary tactics to steer the conversation on to something else. 

It was only when my Director of Studies told me that I had to finish by the following Christmas that I started to knuckle down. That realisation that I had to produce something and the fear of failure was the driving force that got me sat down and studying again. I worked solidly through Christmas and new year and finally submitted it. There were no trumpets, no fanfares, no ticker tape parade, just exhaustion and the need for sleep. From this ordeal I have gone on to offer PhD help, supporting countless doctoral students struggling with their PhD theses.

Start Writing as Soon as Possible

I spent a great amount of time reading as much as possible on my subject. There seemed to be no end to the amount or books, articles and sites dedicated to what I was researching. I thought that I hadn’t read enough to start writing. Looking back, I wish I’d have started writing earlier. Only when I started to write did I understand the gaps in my knowledge and where to place what I was reading into the framework of my research. 

Make Notes of References

When you come to the end of your thesis, the last thing you want to do is to try to remember the reference you found two, three or four years ago. Using Endnote can help with this. It might seem a lot to learn and get used to, but it will help tremendously in the long term. 

Mock Vivas

Vivas can be daunting. Having to sit in a room and defend your thesis, something that’s so close to your heart and personal can be a terrifying experience. The one thing that helped me was having mock vivas. Two of my supervisors separately conducted practice vivas the week before the real thing. It helped in a number of ways. First, it helped me familiarise myself with being in the physical space of the viva situation. Second, it allowed me to articulate my ideas coherently. It is one thing to read and reread your PhD thesis, it’s another thing to express the intricate points verbally. Third, it highlighted questions that I hadn’t thought about and where the potential sticking points were.

Manage Your Time Effectively

Set yourself targets and get into a good routine. It took me a while to realise that, without these two key factors, the day and my working time shrunk to nothing. Whether this means working in the research room with other doctoral students or just making sure you’re at your desk at a certain time, as long as you get into a productive working pattern, that’s all that matters.


Working with Others

PhD help also takes other people into account. Working on a PhD can be a very lonely and isolating experience with periods of inactivity and self doubt. It can feel that you’re on your own and that nobody understands what you’re going through. This is why working with others can help provide the support you need and the motivation to engage with your work. This doesn’t mean having to hire an office or work in a stuffy research room; working in a cafe is just as effective, as long as they have the three essentials: plug sockets, wifi and good coffee. It doesn’t mean that you have to be working on similar things either, the fact that you’re alongside someone who is engaging with work is a powerful motivator.

Doctor John offers high quality proofreading services for students and businesses, specialising in PhD thesis editing. For more information on PhD help, proofreading, content marketing and social media email or ring on 0800 852 7258

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