The PhD Timeline: The First 100 Days- A personal response -Tom Ottway

Really don’t want to depress or scare you, but this is a fascinating article: . You don’t have to read it- I have, and will take you through it  with my response below- besides you’ll need all the time you can get to catch up with what you haven’t done in the first 100 days!

The authors, Kevin O’Gorman and Robert MacIntosh, both Heriot-Watt University professors, have shared their tips and insights  with the rest of the world on what you should already have done on your PhD after Day 99. Here, I’ll give my penny’s worth, using their headings and a few of their quotes.

First of all a critique of this otherwise excellent article. It assumes the 100 days are Full Time. Many of us are working part-time, so this should read ‘200 days’. Secondly, I’m a practice-based researcher (Critical and Creative Practice PhD in Media, Film and Music), and this article doesn’t really take account of those of us who don’t just write words but also develop our practice (in my case, sound, music, film, images, learning coding etc..).


Ok here’s what they say, and my personal response…


(IMAGE Tom Ottway)

1.Know what you are aiming for – read a PhD“Make sure that you have read a finished PhD cover to cover and made notes.”

NO. I haven’t done this yet, and it’s a good idea. I wonder if there’s an element of wanting to read ‘real’ ‘published’ work. Intellectual snobbishness on my part no doubt. Note to self.

2. Get the basics sorted “Have a working abstract, research question(s), aim(s) and set of objectives in written form, even though these will likely evolve over time.”

YES. I have found this really useful, and I have modified these as I’ve gone along.

3. Deal with the housekeeping “Have a formatted (to your institution’s style), full working document of your thesis, with placeholder headings and subheadings, a table of contents, list of references and so on.”

NO. I haven’t really done this, and have yet to find the best way to keep references. I had a useful Researcher one-to-one with Sussex TEL’s Anne Hole, who suggested I use Evernote for keeping notes etc. together. I’ve find this really useful. And would point to this Evernote guru, who runs his life and business from Evernote. I have Evernote Pro, which syncs across devices, which is worth the £35 or so I pay for this.

4. Establish a work ethic – write 10,000 words “Get used to the idea that PhD writing involves a great deal of over-production and subsequent sub-editing.”

NO. But see what I wrote above about ‘work’ which is not just writing, but also practice. For example, as part of research on what Home is, I have begun the research journey of going back to each house I have lived in and recording sound, and my response to it there. To capture this, I have also begun a blog which captures the process of doing this. In addition I have captured ‘all things home’ using social media, particularly using twitter as a hub: @homemademan, from which I also link out to other forms of social media. And yes, I should probably update that photo…


5. Understand when you write best “Is it morning, afternoon or evening?”

YES. I’ve always been a night owl, but I’m trying to set a regime where I make the most of the time I have available, so this has meant blocking out any available time, colour-coded (!) on google calendar, and writing in the mornings, to fit around my other commitments. Again, I think it’s more about get organised and carve out a routine so chaos of life doesn’t grind you and your PhD down to dust!

6. Be realistic Calibrate what you mean by being a “full-time” PhD student. Being clear about how much, if any, of the time spent on related academic things such as tutorials or marking is accounted for and how much is actually “overtime”.

YES. I’ve had to be. This is a good point though. Whatever you envisaged a PhD would be like, it’ll be something slightly different, a kind of mutating being, so yes, calibrate…

7.Get yourself supervised by establishing a feedback routine “Ensure that you have received written and verbal feedback from your supervisor on those 10,000 words and, specifically, on your research question, aim and objectives”

NOT EXACTLY. This is a really important point. I’m yet to establish a routine as such, and this is a potentially dangerous things as you can slip into the ‘everyone is busy and it’s difficult to all meet up-syndrome’, and things can just slide and it becomes no one’s fault, until a deadline looms, and it’s your problem.  At our 2016 Hive Welcome event we heard from the Student Life Centre at Sussex how the majority of PhD issues they hear about (based on hundreds of students) centre around the relationship between  the supervisor and the PhD candidate. I have recorded verbal feedback during supervision, and have archived these and listened again, which has been really useful. And don’t forget, a large amount of the fees, and therefore value, if you like, of a PhD is in the supervision, so make the most of these.

8. Get out there “Discuss your work with your supervisor and make sure that you have thought out a strategy for a conference where you will eventually present your research in, say, the second year of your studies.”

YES. This is absolutely key. Start thinking about your profile from Day 1: who you are; online and in person.

9. Sort diaries six months ahead“Have scheduled meetings agreed with your supervisor at appropriate intervals for the first six months, and make sure that you keep updating that forward meeting schedule.”

NO. An excellent point and a really good idea- see above point.

10. Familiarise yourself with your territory – seek out your leader(s) “Find out who are the key people in your subject area, both living and dead. For those both living and local (that is, at least the same country), figure out where you might meet them or at least hear them talk; this could be at a conference, research seminar or similar event. Be sure to have read at least enough of their material to sound knowledgeable before meeting them.”

YES. This is another critical point. Make the most of these opportunities. And keep an eye on events that are on at your institution, and which are advertised on networks (again sign up to twitter and follow people and the people they follow. The School of Media, Film and Music twitter account I follow seems to put on more events on than I can shake a stick at, which is a great problem to have.

10. Make some friends “PhD study is sometimes described as a lonely process, so make sure that you establish a peer-support network early.”

YES. Absolutely essential, and working and socialising with other researchers at the SAGE Research Hive at Sussex: Marta Schoch, and Marianela Barrios Aquino has led us to develop research practice across our respective disciplines (Media Film and Music, Economics and Global Studies).

One idea now is to produce an online book in the new year as a ‘book sprint‘ around the broad topic of Home, which happens to run across our research interests. In addition, and leading up to this, as part of at Digital Innovation Week at Sussex, we are hosting an eventdigital%20innovation%20week%20gif

called At Home at University? ‘Constructing campus as home with Wikimedia’, which asks:

What does campus sound, look and feel like to you as one of its multiple ‘residents’? Is it welcoming? Warm and vibrant? Lonely and alienating? Noisy? Quiet? Or a multitude of different sounds, voices and views? Come and help capture the essence of campus, adding your unique take on its identity, according to your School and experience. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and be part of an inter-disciplinary team at this Wikimedia Hackathon event which will develop a new and unique resource in just three hours.

11. Get to know everyone

“Figure out who is who in the school/institute/department/faculty/college in which you are studying. Alongside all the other academic advice, it is important to realise that you are joining an organisation with a plethora of established routines and processes. Also get to know how you claim expenses, where you can book meeting rooms, who deals with ethical approvals, who administers the PhD programme, who runs admissions, where the stationery cupboard is located, and who services the IT. These people are also your colleagues and can help you feel that you belong.”

YES. Making the university your home (another key research interest of mine around the theme of ‘belonging’) is of paramount importance.

I hope I have been able to show how checklists like this are useful as prompts, and ‘wake-up calls of perspective’ on your PhD timeline. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can in sharing my own experience, and really hope this leads you to doing the same. Leave a reply or comment below. And I’ll leave you with this re-appropriated quote which I think comes from the Writer’s Journey (Julia Cameron), and was originally a question about writing a novel:

Q: How long does it take to do a PhD?

A: The same time it takes not to do one.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s