This guest entry is written by Dr. Siân Lindsay who shares some tips on PhD dissertation writing. She works as a lecturer in educational development for the department of Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD) at City University London. Siân is module leader on LEaD’s MA in Academic Practice programme, and is co-convenor for the SRHE Newer Researchers network and conference. Siân holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from Royal Holloway University of London and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Siân’s current research focuses exploring and supporting the PhD student experience and her recently published research on thesis writing can be found here.
Back in late 2003, as a first year PhD student, the thought of producing a 100,000 word thesis was unimaginable and overwhelming. I consoled myself by promising that as long as I worked as hard as possible in collecting lots of data to analyse then writing my thesis would be easy. I would only start writing properly once I had all my data together and could take a holistic view of it all. But that was my mistake, because actually I didn’t get all the data I needed until the final few months of my PhD studentship. I’d left much of the thesis writing until the end and was now facing a colossal and highly stressful task ahead of me. Somehow I did manage to write my thesis in less than 6 months and then passed my viva. But, the stress in doing so had a significant impact.
My experience in part propelled me to undertake some research into the PhD student experience of thesis writing. The other factor was motivated by a need to understand why PhD students can take longer than is ideal to complete their PhD. In the UK, full-time PhD students should complete their doctorate within 4 years (this includes writing and submitting their thesis), whereas part-time students are allowed up to 7 years. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) publishes research degree qualification rates (RDQRs) for HE institutions running PhD programmes to largely demonstrate how well the 4 or 7 year deadlines are being adhered to. Notably, HEFCE positively discriminates institutions with higher rates with better funding opportunities than those with less than ideal rates. It is important to note that RDQRs are adjusted according to the particular nuances of an institution (e.g. its size, locale, number of PhD programmes etc). As an additional impetus – the stress of letting a PhD run on for too long also has really significant implications on the student: mentally, emotionally as well as financially. Based on several discussions with Senior Tutors for Research at my university, I had hypothesised that thesis writing may represent a significant hurdle in slowing down progression of the PhD (or sometimes even stopping it altogether).
I set about testing my hypothesis by interviewing PhD students who were right in the middle of writing their thesis (or had just completed it). I also wanted to know what worked for these students in writing up (and conversely, what to avoid doing) and disseminate their ideas and advice with others. (more…)