Updated: Feb 3
by C. O.
The route to a PhD research degree varies. Some individuals start after an undergraduate or a master’s degree. Conversely, others start after a gap year or after undertaking some work experience. You may now be considering making a PhD research degree part of your future. You may want to expand your knowledge in a specific research field, make new discoveries, and/or develop transferable skills.
But, where and how do you start with your research?
PhD research is a bit like a puzzle, and it is not suitable for everyone. If you are contemplating your next adventure in academia, it can be a challenge knowing what to expect. To help you to evaluate whether a PhD is for you, I will explain what to expect during a PhD research degree.
I will focus on three areas that I believe are important for preparing for research:
· Research – investigating universities, academics, and research areas of interest is key to choosing the right PhD research degree for you.
· Writing – creating a research proposal is a great way to start developing your writing skills while also showing commitment and diligence to future supervisors.
· Planning – at the beginning of your research journey you must plan to reduce anxiety, increase productivity, and ensure you prioritise effectively.
Expect to do preliminary Research
You have been conducting research all your life. When you read product or customer reviews on sites such as Amazon or Airbnb you are trying to establish the facts. This is a form of research.
PhD degrees require you to do research all the time too. When deciding on a PhD research degree, you must do some provisional research. For example, it is essential to consider your areas of interest, identify potential supervisors, choose specific universities, and potentially develop a research proposal.
Part of this stage is deciding whether you need to research all these aspects. For example, some individuals may choose to continue at the University where they did their undergraduate. Or work in a similar faculty or research field as their master’s dissertation project. If you are like me, changing discipline, then investigating all the aspects listed above is essential.
Also, where possible, you may need to develop specific research techniques. For example, in some science research degrees, laboratory skills are invaluable. The internet is your friend, and you can start with Twitter, Google Scholar and a host of other platforms.
Expect to write a proposal
A fundamental element to PhD research is writing.
A research proposal is an excellent place to start developing your writing skills. Note that the proposal may not be essential for all, you should check the protocol within your desired field of interest.
Prof Alison Phipps suggested writing a draft proposal before contacting a potential supervisor.
The draft proposal enables you to demonstrate that you have given some thought to the research idea, and you are also able to show ownership of the research. It gives the impression of a committed and diligent individual. There are many approaches to creating a research proposal.
I will add that it is ok to feel uncertain but keep an open mind while navigating the landscape of research proposal writing.
expect to PLAn
Irrespective of the field or research discipline you wish to go into, and your route to a PhD degree, you must plan.
You need to set specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, time-bound (SMART) aims and objectives. This planning will reduce uncertainties that can cause anxiety or frustration during your research.
However, the plan you make for your research will not remain the same throughout your study. So it is best to remain flexible in your planning. Planning also helps to put things in perspective, and ensures you prioritise and remain disciplined throughout your studies.
I must add that when you plan, look out for perfection and procrastination, and remember ‘done is better than perfect’.
C. O. did his MSc at the University of Edinburgh in Environmental Protection and Management. He is currently a geography PhD researcher at the University College London. His research focuses on the land in southern Nigeria, drawing on historical and contemporary experiences.