Conducting your research
Working with your Supervisor
Striking the right working relationship with you Supervisor can make the difference between a great PhD and a miserable three years you’ll never get back. It’s in both your interests to make the relationship work, as both your careers will be affected by what happens next. Here are some ideas:
- Schedule meetings. Progress meetings are vital for reporting your findings and requesting assistance. Use Outlook or other calendar software to make sure you both have your meetings planned out ahead of time, and always go into them with both your results, and your ideas for what comes next. Keep meeting notes/minutes, ensuring you have a record of what is agreed.
- Understand the system. Your PhD should comprise three years of study, but what happens in that time? When does write-up start? Did you know you’ll be having a formal progress review meeting every year? The Student Handbook’s Policies section for Postgraduate Students breaks down what’s expected of you and your Supervisor.
- Know your colleagues. Make sure you know who to go to in order to work well with your Supervisor. Do they have a Personal Assistant, or a Research Coordinator? Who is your Second or Co-Supervisor? Who should you go to when you can’t find them, or need someone else?
- Keep up with the literature. Conduct a thorough literature review to get you established with the current state of your field. Set up citation alerts through Web of Knowledge or similar sites to let you know when your key authors are being cited. Choose one day each week to check your most relevant journals for new material.
- Keep good records. It will make everyone’s life easier if your research is well-documented from day one. Excel spreadsheets or Access databases can be very useful in keeping track of which sources you’ve followed up, which journal articles you’ve read (or haven’t!), or which experiments you’ve conducted. Choose a good method for labelling your references, samples or materials, and stick to it!
‘Publish or perish’ is a common, if shrill maxim in academia. Publication of results in peer-reviewed academic journals is the lifeblood and principal metric for success in the academic world. PhD research results are a fertile source of such publications, and you should do your best to ensure that your PhD work goes toward publishable material. Some things to consider:
- Impact Factor of the journals you could be published in, which can be found through Web of Knowledge’s Additional Resources page.
- Who are your co-authors? Will their name come before or after yours in the by-line? Being first-named author on a paper will carry more weight in many academic fields.
- Style and format can vary considerably between journals. Are you confident in writing about your work? Workshops in academic writing are available through CAPOD.
Conferences are a fantastic opportunity to test your presentation skills, communicate your work to an audience of peers and establish networks with them. Which are the most useful conferences in your field, and do you have the budget to attend them? Would a travel bursary help matters?
- You can search the Career Centre’s FundingOnline database for ‘Travel’, ‘Conference’ or similar terms.
- Attend a Postgraduate X-change seminar on campus if you want to build experience and confidence presenting your work.
- Be proactive! Establish from your peers which are the most useful conferences to attend, and check submission deadlines well in advance.
- CAPOD has a fund to help cover the cost of attending external events that will develop your transferable research skills.
Commercial awareness has been flagged as a key area where PhD students fall behind their Bachelor’s and Master’s colleagues, usually as a result of focus on a single topic for three years.
- Any workplace experience you can gather over the course of your PhD will be a useful addition to your CV.
- This may be through academic or industrial collaborators, or even during your holiday time! Other examples include the IoP, MRC and NERC/BBSRC Policy internships, and the RSC Westminster fellowships.
- It will also be good evidence for employers that you have taken the trouble to keep your hand in with non-academic skills.
How you end your PhD is just as important as how you start. Making sure both you and your supervisor are aware of the timeline as you enter your final year is an important part of this, and can include personal deadlines such as job applications and family commitments.
- The Student Handbook contains the regulations on what you will need to submit, and when.
- Consult your supervisor on your School's policy regarding thesis embargo (that is, any restriction on when your thesis results can be released, in line with any regulations imposed by publishers in your academic field). If you wish to publish results from your thesis following graduation, it is important you are aware of any embargo restrictions.
- Be aware of any visa implications regarding what happens after you submit your thesis. If in doubt, consult the International Student Advisers. You may be able to apply for the Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme.
- Take advice early on what writing up your thesis entails. Any publications you have contributed to may form the basis of individual chapters, but this must be agreed with your supervisor and any other authors. Consult fellow students and postdoctoral staff on their experience, and consider getting to grips with the Dos and Don'ts:
- Attend the next workshop run by CAPOD on Planning and writing your thesis, Editing thesis chapters or E-thesis submission.
- How Not to Write a PhD Thesis, Times Higher Education 2010.
- Writing Your Thesis, Vitae.
- Viva Survivors, Dr. Nathan Ryder's excellent podcast of interviews with PhD graduates, as well as other advice.