My PhD Advice, Part 7: Endgame – the Viva

The end is nigh – you’ve finished and submitted your thesis.  Now you’ve got to just get that doctorate…I must warn you all at this point.  I’m aware that the assessment system for PhDs varies greatly between countries.  Having only got one PhD, I can only relate my own experience (which of course are relevant for UK PhDs).  For example, Australian PhDs have no oral defence (although the thesis is still assessed by two examiners), and other countries’ oral defenses are extended seminars given to a larger audience.

Continue reading My PhD Advice, Part 7: Endgame – the Viva

My PhD Advice, Part 4: Fortune Favours the Brave

Apologies for last week’s blip in this series of posts – the events of the last week have been a little distracting.  Let’s keep going with my pearls of wisdom.  This week’s one is quite general, and the title says it all.  There are several things you need to be brave about – the first is bravery in research itself.

My experience has taught me that boldness is important in your own research.  The more confident you are about your own ability, the more likely you are to explore avenues of research that are high-risk & high-reward.  Quite often, the avenues are a dead end, but every now and then the gamble pays off, and the result is a significant boost to your career.  I took something of a risk quite early on in my PhD, and it paid off pretty well.

It’s quite easy to choose the low-risk options – the easy projects that don’t require too much effort on your part, but the payoff is relatively low.  It’s especially easy in Science, where the low-risk projects result in quick papers that fill out your CV, and improve your chances of getting another position.  But the high-risk projects can have even better pay-offs.  You could find yourself developing a whole new field of science, where you are the world’s foremost expert.  That’s an even better position to be in when you’re looking for a new job.

You shouldn’t just be bold about what projects you choose, but how you communicate your work.  Academia is a marketplace of ideas, “marketplace” being the operative word.  In Science, we attempt to assess ideas objectively based on evidence, whether those ideas are analysed datasets or theoretical constructions.  Ideas which pass the obstacles put in place by the scientific method are given merit according to their ability, and another chip is made at the rock face of cutting edge research.

This is how Science works in principle – in practice, Science is undertaken by humans, and humans respond better to ideas if they are packaged correctly.  Presenting your work confidently and effectively will help your ideas go further, and boost your profile amongst your peers.  Forming and maintaining a network of collaborators and colleagues is probably the most important part of being an academic (and very rewarding in its own right).  Even if you don’t want to stay in academia forever, the business world operates on very similar principles – effective networking is part of any successful career.

OK, so this week’s advice is a bit of a grab-bag, but there is a general message – be as confident as you can be without being arrogant.  Be bold – take risks with your research.  Take on some low-risk stuff to keep your PhD ticking over, but don’t be afraid to try something that could change your field of Science (and your career with it).