PhD

Part-time studying but full-time thinking

The more I think about it, the more I am happy that undertaking a part-time PhD was the right thing for me. It seems counter intuitive as I often get frustrated at having to juggle a full-time job, work on my thesis and life in general. That being said, when I think about the progress I’ve made over my first year, I don’t feel like I am far behind where I would be full-time. I think the main reason for this is that although I have limited time to devote to reading, researching and academic admin tasks, something carries on beyond this time and that is the difficult part – the thinking. I think that this is nicely explained with a quote from Weber’s Science as a vocation:

Ideas occur to us when they please, not when it pleases us. The best ideas do indeed occur to one’s mind in the way in which Ihering describes it: when smoking a cigar on the sofa; or as Helmholtz states of himself with scientific exactitude: when taking a walk on a slowly ascending street; or in a similar way. In any case, ideas come when we do not expect them, and not when we are brooding and searching at our desks. Yet ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.

This seems to be perfectly applicable to the shift from ‘studying time’ to ‘work time’. Often it is in the midst of my day job, or during my drive to work that the things I have been struggling with suddenly make sense. This is also something that needs to be capitalised upon as often these thoughts go and fast as they come. For this, Evernote has been a life saver, acting as a multimedia notepad that is with me 24/7. Sometimes, I write a note by hand and capture it with my phone’s camera, sometimes I do the same with a document and other times I type direct into it. This mental scrapbook, however, is what I believe has been the key to moving forward in my thinking even when I’m not technically working on my PhD project.

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Book Review: Starting your PhD: What you need to know – Helen Kara

Helen Kara’s new book ‘Starting your PhD’ is the book I dreamed of a few years ago when I was wondering where to start with the PhD process. The literature surrounding doctoral study often focuses on the ‘how to’ write a proposal, or plan a study. This is then complemented by an array of texts on ethics, analysis and writing but most leave some of the more pressing questions of the aspiring doctoral researcher unanswered. This is the gap this text fills, and exactly in the way I feel starting researcher need. It takes those exact questions and one by one offers answers to them.

It is an ebook and covers just 41 pages therefore it can be quickly downloaded and read. In fact, I devoured it in a matter of hours and yet its lessons are ones which will stay for years. At less than the price of a cup of coffee, it is also the ultimate bargain. In fact, the coffee analogy doesn’t end there as it is written in such an accessible way that it feels like the author is delivering this sage advice over a casual cuppa. Maybe in future additions, this could be built upon even more by offering a variety of voices through real life examples of how other PhD students and supervisors have also dealt with those issues but then this is one of the beauties of it being an ebook, that I’m sure it will evolve into many more editions and provide essential reading for all those about to start the doctoral journey.