PhD: An Uncommon Guide to Research, Writing & PhD Life Paperback – 1 Feb 2015
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At this point in my PhD (one month before my classes begin), I found this book extremely helpful in mentally preparing me for the years that lie ahead in terms of how to think about my work/career, how to approach my classes, how to keep my work organized, how to manage my time, how to associate with my colleagues, etc. Again, this is not really a how-to-do guide, it is a how-to-approach-stuff guide.
This book answers all the questions that people have about PhD life but wouldn't be able to articulate them or know who to ask. I have actually tried asking current/recent students questions about some of the topics that this book touches upon. However, I think it's hard to get objective answers from current/recent PhDs because people's experiences and feelings about those experiences vary a lot. Only once you have stepped out of the experience completely are you able to reflect upon it in an unbiased way - which this author does to perfection.
Finally, what I loved most about this book was that it leaves you feeling in control. The author discusses many setbacks he had during his PhD and how he overcame them and what worked and what didn't work. All of this makes you see the largely amorphous process of PhD as something which some amount of structure and predictability, while also learning to incorporate the unpredictability of certain parts of research (experiments/results) into your workplan.
This is an excellent book if you are starting your PhD or are feeling stuck in the middle of your PhD. Go for it! :)
His thoughts on skill development during a PhD are probably the best part of the book, as are his perspectives on what earning a PhD actually means rather than what people often imagine it to mean. He gently disagrees with some ideas like writing garbage and fixing it later and offers alternatives. Many of the other ideas he shares are not new per se (e.g., cut off internet access), but he wraps them together in a slim and accessible volume. The first two-thirds of the book cover bigger-picture issues like research, academic literature, academic writing, publishing, and conferences. The final third of the book focuses specifically on writing a dissertation or thesis, building on earlier ideas in the book.
The book suffers from a handful of editing mishaps - an irony considering Hayton's insistence on relatively careful writing and the editing process - and it was much less comprehensive than other books in this genre. I think the US $30 list price was a bit of a stretch considering it's a small short book with very wide margins, but it's certainly worth US $13 if you are pursuing a PhD.
Although many of them seem common sense, people, including me, overlook them when facing tons of information under time pressure.
Also, the book answers several questions I used to have in mind but didn't know who I should consult with.
I had no real idea of what an oral defence entailed, for example, and was concerned about that aspect of the process. I now have a far better idea of it as well as a solid approach that could be used.
The book is structured in a linear way, with clear examples. The author is an experimental physicist, yet this is not obtrusive. His writing, in plain language, is equally applicable to any other discipline.
Highly recommended as a starting point if you are considering treading this path.