One to Read – “The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research” (2010)

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Petre, M and Rugg, G (2010) The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research, Open University Press

You’ve entered the world of the PhD student, do you ever feel there are rules and practices at work that you have not been told about?

Well here is a book that gives you a heads up on ‘things that nobody bothers to tell you explicitly, either because they assume you know them already, or because they are so familiar to them that they completely forget that other people don’t know them, or because they don’t think they’re worth mentioning’ (xi).

The book is humorously written by two well established supervisors citing many real life examples, giving a wonderful insight to the process from their side of the fence. Dip in or read from cover to cover, wherever you are in your studies there will be something useful.

For those studying at a university it includes excellent advice on so many issues and potential problems – coffee features highly here. For those studying at a distance the cup of coffee strategy is not so useful but there is plenty of other stuff well worth reading. If nothing else check out chapter 15 The Viva just to check you are not spending years of your life measuring the effect of the central heating in the mushroom sheds (p194).

Some of my favourite bits.

Cardinal rules when dealing with your supervisor:

  • Be honest
  • Be articulate (say what you mean and ask for what you need)
  • Be informative (keep the supervisor informed)
  • Be respectful (remember, your supervisor holds that academic position for a reason even if the reason is obscure to you, and you’re asking for your supervisor’s time and input)
  • Be adult (i.e. take responsibility for yourself) (p56)

And some ideas about dealing with other people that could be helpful:

Networking Tools

  • Flattery – barefaced, precise, economical and accurate
  • Coffee – treat an eminent person to a cup, especially at conferences
  • Chocolate biscuits – currency to motivate subjects in your research
  • Trading favours – do admin or library searches in exchange for someone’s time and input (p61)

However the table below is my ultimate favourite section of the book. Consider what you write and see what it actually says to those that read it.

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This book is one you will read from cover to cover, wherever you are in your studies. Then you will return to it, at various points in the future, to check the advice on what is relevant to you at the time.