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

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2.3 Short-term and long-term planning

Clearly an important step in planning your work is actually constructing a plan. We suggest you carry out short-term (3 months) and long-term (3 years) planning. The long-term planning will make sure you keep your eye on the big picture, remembering what your PhD enquiry is about and making sure you do not spend too much time on what seems important now. Obviously, it is harder to see how things will happen during the later stages, and they will not be as clearly focused as the earlier ones; nevertheless, it is crucial to develop a plan for the whole period. This will give you some idea of what you need to do, when you need to do it, and what you need to have done already in order to start each activity.

You will need to choose a time unit. Over the short term, a week is likely to be the most appropriate unit, and you have to decide how many hours you can make available within a week. On the long term, a month is probably a better planning unit.

Some of the activities that you might have in a long-term plan include:

  • literature review

  • attendance at a summer school

  • attendance at local conferences

  • training for use of equipment or computer programs

  • writing of topic-specific software for data collection or analysis

  • experiments and/or field-work

  • analysis of experimental results

  • visits to a collaborative partner, which might be another university or a private company

  • writing of yearly reports

  • time for private holidays

  • writing of your thesis, which might be separated into an early draft stage and a later, more detailed stage.

A short-term plan might include many of the above activities, and also others such as:

  • specific short-term experiments

  • preparation for department seminars

  • attendance at department or faculty colloquia

  • regular meetings with your supervisor(s).

One of the activities that we specifically recommend you plan for is writing up your research, both during your research and at the end of your project. We emphasise the need to write because it is often put off to the very end of the project, when in nearly all cases it is required right from the beginning. It is very easy to let things slip and to fail to address important issues unless you confront yourself with them in print. But even more importantly, the time you need to set aside for writing is a major constraint. Because almost all research tasks have a writing component, it cannot really be left until later in the research process. The writing-up stage is when you should be pulling everything together based on draft material you already have, rather than starting from scratch.

How you draft your plans and allocate time is up to you. The Gantt chart is an especially convenient way of outlining a plan.

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