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

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.4 Planning with Gantt charts

One useful way of planning is to use a Gantt chart with supporting notes. Examples of Gantt charts are shown in Figures 1 and 2. Gantt charts are useful because they relate all activities to a single visual calendar. They are a way of analysing the tasks ahead in the form of smaller pieces of work that are to be done within defined time-scales. The chart should ideally include all your expected ‘milestones’ and ‘deliverables’, each with time-scales. For each ‘deliverable’, ensure that you identify and record the resources you will require and how and when you will obtain them.

By looking vertically down such a chart you can identify periods of peak activity across several fronts. They are really useful in identifying times when your workload might become too heavy – which, of course, would mean it would be best to amend your plan. Remember to build in time for ‘slippage’ as a result of, for instance, holidays and emergencies, such as family or personal crises.

The Gantt charts shown in Figures 1 and 2 are examples of a long-term plan and a short-term plan respectively. These are clearly only generic plans: every PhD project is different and every student is different, so no two students are going to have the same plan. In addition, the style of PhD research varies widely between disciplines: a student in biology will need to plan quite differently to one in computer science. Examples of research plans for different scientific principles can be seen on the course website. Look at the one for your discipline and check that you understand all the activities listed there.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Example of a fairly simple long-term plan for a PhD project.
Figure 2
Figure 2 Example of a short-term plan for part of a PhD project.

You can download a template for a Gantt chart [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Activity 1

  • (i) Make a list of the activities that you think you will carry out during your PhD programme. Be as comprehensive as you can.

  • (ii) Construct a Gantt chart outlining a schedule for these activities.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371