Postgraduate study skills in science, technology or mathematics
Postgraduate study skills in science, technology or mathematics

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2 Managing your PhD project

2.1 Introduction

The most basic requirement of a PhD thesis is high-quality research. This outcome requires obvious intellectual skills related to knowledge and intelligence, but also less obvious skills such as planning and time management. A PhD project is a multi-year research programme, and the abilities to plan effectively, to coordinate activities and to manage your time and that of others are extremely important. The aim of this course is to help you understand the planning and management skills that are necessary for you to complete your PhD successfully.

Right from the start, it is important that you understand that your PhD project is yours. Whether you are working as an individual, as part of a small group, or even as part of large national or European research programme, your own research project is yours, and you are responsible for its progress in a way that may not be familiar. While your supervisors and your institution have a duty to provide you with guidance and training, their stake in what you do is different to yours. Realistically, your project is not going to take up as much of your supervisors' time and attention as it will yours. They want you to complete a project, but it is your responsibility to narrow the project topic down, which something that you can and want to do, and it is your task rather than theirs to carry it out.

Good planning is essential for the success of your PhD research. Key activities include organising, scheduling, prioritising and managing the tasks that you identify as essential components of your PhD project.

Managing your project involves monitoring progress against your plan and making changes taking into account reflection on the success, for example, of your methodologies or time constraints. However, remember you are undertaking research, and thus your plan needs to be flexible so that it can accommodate unexpected circumstances or new information. Being able to think through modifications to your planned schedule of tasks in the light of new results is an important component of successful PhD work.

Everyone's PhD project is different, and it is not possible to suggest hard and fast rules that you can use to plan and manage your specific research project. What we aim to do in this course is to give you the tools so that you can make your own plans and manage your own project in the most effective way.

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